WORLDVIEW:Young, red-bearded Chechen who has become the most recognisable commander of Isis terror group
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State or Iraq and the Levant, yesterday appeared on a 19-minute audiotape calling on Muslims to come to the territory his group has seized to help build an Islamic state
It drew hundreds of foreign fighters to its operations in Syria however after it intervened in Syria's civil war last year.
two branches are now swapping fighters, equipment and weapons to an
even greater extent than before, becoming a more integrated
Its declaration of the caliphate - aspiring to be a state for all Muslims - could mean an even greater internationalization of its ranks.
Alexei Malashenko, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office, said ethnicity is not a major factor in jihadi movements, only dedication to jihad.
Al-Shishani 'is a
fanatic of Islam with war experience, and he obviously has had a strong
track record (among fellow fighters),' he said.
Announcement: Isis militants celebrate the establishment of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast stretches of the Middle East that have fallen under its control
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic 'caliphate' after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq
Syria's civil war, in its fourth year, has attracted militants from around the world. Some estimates run as high as 10,000 foreign fighters in the country.
But the Chechens - hardened from years of wars with Russia in the Caucasus region - are considered some of the best fighters.
Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym FSB, said last October that about 500 militants from Russia and hundreds more from other ex-Soviet nations are fighting in Syria.
Al-Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, is an ethnic Chechen from the Caucasus nation of Georgia, specifically from the Pankisi Valley, a centre of Georgia's Chechen community and once a stronghold for militants.
He carried out military service in the Georgian army but was discharged after an unspecified illness, said one of his former neighbours, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
A gun-brandishing Islamist loyal to Isis celebrates the formation of the caliphate by waving a jihadist flag in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Sunday
At one point, he was arrested by Georgian police for illegal possession of arms, the neighbour told Associated Press. As soon as he was released in 2010, Batirashvili left for Turkey. Georgian police refused to comment.
He later surfaced in Syria in 2013 with his nom de guerre, which means 'Omar the Chechen' in Arabic, leading an al-Qaida-inspired group called 'The Army of Emigrants and Partisans,' which included a large number of fighters from the former Soviet Union.
meeting was soon organized with al-Baghdadi in which al-Shishani
pledged loyalty to him, according to Lebanon's al-Akhbar newspaper,
which follows jihadi groups.
As the militant group's operations in
Iraq and Syria grow 'more and more inter-dependent by the day, it is
more than possible that someone like (al-Shishani) could assume overall
- Charles Lister, visiting fellow with the Brookings Doha Centre
In August 2013 his fighters proved pivotal in taking the Syrian military's Managh air base in the north of the country.
Rebels had been trying for months to take the base, but it fell soon after al-Shishani joined the battle, said an activist from the region, Abu al-Hassan Maraee.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant entered the Syria conflict in 2013, and initially it was welcomed by other rebels.
But rebel groups - including other Islamic militant factions - turned against it, alienated by its brutal methods and kidnappings and killings of rivals, and accusing it of trying to take over the opposition movement for its own ambitions of creating a transnational Islamic enclave.
Rebel factions have been fighting against the group since last year in battles that have left thousands dead. Al-Qaida's central command ejected the extremist group from the network.
the past two months, al-Shishani has led an offensive in Syria's
eastern Deir el-Zour province against rival rebels, seeking to solidify
his hold on a stretch of territory connected to neighboring Iraq.
May, some Arab media organizations reported that al-Shishani was killed
in the fighting. An activist in Iraq in contact with members of the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant said al-Shishani suffered wounds in
his right arm and was taken into Iraq where he underwent treatment
before returning to Syria. He spoke on condition of anonymity for
Caliphate: A map purportedly showing the areas Isis plans to have under its control within five years has been widely shared online. As well as the Middle East, North Africa and large areas of Asia, it also reveals Isis' ambition to extend into Europe. Spain, which was Muslim-ruled until the late 15th Century, would form part of the caliphate, as would the Balkan states and eastern Europe, up to and including Austria
Since then, al-Shishani has appeared multiple times in photos and videos put out by the group. The photos and videos are consistent with the AP's reporting from activists on the ground.
In a recent photograph, the young, round-faced al-Shishani, wearing a black cap and beige gown, is seen with a big smile as he examines a Humvee said to have been captured in Iraq and brought into Syria.
Hussein Nasser, spokesman for the Islamic Front coalition group of rebels, said Chechens are among the most feared fighters in Syria.
'A Chechen comes and has no idea about anything (in the country) and does whatever his leader tells him,' Nasser said. 'Even if his emir tells him to kill a child, he would do it.'
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