Islamic State commander Omar al Shishani planning an assault – new image pic.twitter.com/wvEBLEAmB2
— Daniele Raineri (@DanieleRaineri) March 9, 2014
Omar al-Shishani has become the most visible military commander in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The red-bearded butcher, whose name means “Omar the Chechen” in Arabic, is omnipresent on social media in both photos and videos as ISIL runs roughshod over large portions of Iraq.
ISIL, which started as the al-Qaeda off-shoot in Iraq and became one of the most brutal and ideological rebel groups in the Syrian civil war, is now seen as a major threat to America after conquering a nation-sized land mass, amassing a fortune in cash and an enormous arsenal of weapons and vehicles along the way.
Here’s what you should know about the Chechen jihadist who loves the spotlight:
1. He Served in the Georgian Army
The Washington Post reports that al-Shishani was born Takhan Bitrashvili, an ethnic Chechen living in Georgia, the nation to the south of Russia in the Caucus mountains. He specifically hailed from a former anti-Russian militant stronghold, the Pankisi Valley, pointed out on the map above.
The BBC reports he served in the Georgian army from 2007 to 2010, earning promotion to the rank of sergeant. He was finally discharged due to illness. Once out of the military, al-Shishani was arrested for illegally possessing firearms, eventually fleeing to Turkey after he was released from prison.
2. He Was ISIL’s Ruthless Military Leader in Syria
Shishani eventually made his way to Syria, where the civil war began in 2010, pitting secular democrats and Muslim extremists against the totalitarian reign of Bashar al Assad. He was appointed a commander for all ISIL troops in northern Syria, overseeing ruthless fighting and killings, including multiple crucifixions.
3. He Appears in Many Propaganda Videos
Unlike ISIL’s mysterious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who appears in only two known photographs, Shishani has become the face of ISIL, appearing in multiple videos and social media images, including the propaganda video above.
4. His Troops Are Using U.S. Weaponry & Vehicles
After ISIL captured the large city of Mosul in northern Iraq, pictures began surfacing on social media of the bounty of American weapons and vehicles seized when Iraqi troops fled the region. Above, you can see Shishani inspecting an American humvee sent to the Syrian front from Iraq by another member of ISIL.
5. He Recently Announced the Dissolution of National Borders Between Iraq & Syria
In one of his many filmed appearances, Shishani recently announced that ISIL had created an Islamic caliphate independent of Iraq and Syria but spanning across those countries’ commonly recognized international borders.