One of Islamic State’s topmost commanders, Abu Omar al-Shishani, has died of wounds suffered from a U.S. airstrike in Syria, according to the Pentagon and activist groups operating in the region.
Islamic State’s self-confessed “Minister of War,” Shishani was a veteran of the Russo-Georgian War, and had served in various command positions with Islamist militant groups fighting in the Syrian Civil War. In May, 2013, he was appointed Islamic State’s northern commander before rising quickly through the ranks to become the group’s “emir” (leader) by the end of the year.
However, as palliating as the news of Shishani’s death would be for coalition forces engaged in a war against the Islamic State, it has not been smooth sailing for the U.S. Army.
This is the second time within a week that Shishani has been believed to have been killed by the Pentagon, reports Vice. On March 8, Pentagon had released a statement saying that it had targeted Shishani in airstrikes near the town of al-Shaddadi in eastern Syria.
“We assess he’s dead,” U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, had written in an e-mail, according to the Washington Post.
But, two days later, activist groups working in the conflict-torn region had said that United States’ assumption that Shishani was dead was misplaced. Activists claimed that although a U.S. airstrike had indeed managed to wound Shishani, he was not killed in the attack.
“He did not die,” Rami Abdulrahman, the director of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, had told Reuters, before adding that the Islamic State commander was moved to Raqqa for treatment.
On Tuesday, however, two top Pentagon officials confirmed to CNN that Shishani had succumbed to injuries, a claim backed by Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group of activists and citizen journalists reporting from within Islamic State-controlled territory.
This is the fifth time that reports about Shishani’s death have circulated on international media over the last two years. But while the authenticity of earlier reports were always in question, with several sources retracting their statements soon after claiming that Shishani had died, this time, on-ground journalists and activists working in Syria have confirmed news of the Islamic State commander’s death.
But even as the US Army and Pentagon claim that the Islamic State’s “Minister of War” has perished, the militant group has itself not confirmed his death. On the contrary, the Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency had earlier said that Shishani “was not exposed to any injury.”
The validity of that statement cannot be confirmed at this point of time.
Trained by American Special Forces, Shishani was known as a skilled tactician and standout military organizer. Having fought against the Russians as a youth before joining the Georgian military, the Islamic State commander was a military veteran whose death will likely impact the group in a serious way. “He was a perfect soldier from his first days, and everyone knew he was a star,” one of his commanders had once said about him. “We were well trained by American special forces units, and he was the star pupil.”
His death will undoubtedly come as a major blow to the Islamic State, whose top brass looks increasingly threatened as coalition attacks against the group continue to mount in the wake of November’s Paris massacre.
[Image via Wikipedia]