Omar al-Shishani, an ethnic Chechen recognizable by his long red beard, has emerged as one of the most prominent faces of terror group ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
A video released over the weekend shows al-Shishani, 28, declaring the group’s intent to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the areas of Iraq and Syria the group controls, The Associated Press reported
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"Our aim is clear and everyone knows why we are fighting. Our path is toward the caliphate," al-Shishani says in the video. "We will bring back the caliphate, and if God does not make it our fate to restore the caliphate, then we ask him to grant us martyrdom."
Al-Shishani was known to lead the group’s military efforts in Syria and may have taken control of the group’s overall military after the Iraqi militant who led it, Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari, was killed in Mosul in early June, the AP reported.
Photos of Georgian-born al-Shishani suggest that he was the mastermind behind the capture of Mosul, the International Business Times reported
Al-Shishani previously was a sergeant in the U.S.-funded Georgian army, serving in the Russia-Georgia War in 2008, IBT reported. He was discharged from the army after contracting tuberculosis in 2010. Unable to find a job and hardened by spending 16 months in a Georgian prison after being charged for possessing illegal weapons, al-Shishani joined the fighting in Syria, swearing allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Al-Shishani grew up surrounded by fighting in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia.
“That’s the Harvard of terrorist upbringing,” Patrick M. Skinner, director of special projects for security consulting company Soufan Group, told NBC News
Leading 500 to 1,000 fighters, al-Shishani has seen success and avoided crippling losses, NBC reported. His fighters helped capture Managh, an air base in the Syrian north last August.
Syria’s civil war has attracted fighters from around the world, with some estimating as many as 10,000 foreign fighters in the country, the AP reported. Chechens are considered the most hardened and feared fighters.
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