IS’s Shishani death may damage foreign recruitment

Baghdad—The death of Islamic State’s “minister of war” may disrupt its operations, a senior U.S. military officer said on Thursday, and an Iraqi security expert said it could damage IS’s important recruitment efforts in ex-Soviet republics.
Abu Omar al-Shishani (the Chechen), a close military adviser to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in combat in the Iraqi district of Shirqat, south of Mosul, Amaq, a news agency that supports IS, said on Wednesday.
It was the first confirmation of Shishani’s death, which the Pentagon said in March had probably occurred as a result of a U.S. air strike in eastern Syria.
Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises Iraq’s government on Islamist armed groups, said Shishani had been wounded in the March attack but was treated at a hospital in Shirqat, an Islamic State stronghold about 250 km (160 miles) north of Baghdad.
He said Shishani was killed earlier this week in a nearby village along with an aide by an air strike during combat with U.S.-backed Iraqi forces closing in on the area.
The commander of the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, expressed confidence in the intelligence that led to the recent strike on Shishani in the Tigris River valley where Shirqat is located, but declined on Thursday to declare him dead.
“We’re being a little conservative in calling the ball on whether or not he’s actually dead or not. But we certainly gave it our best shot,” MacFarland told reporters in Baghdad, joking that Shishani might be the “Rasputin of this conflict.”
Iraqi military officials had no immediate comment.
Some analysts speculated that Shishani might in fact have died in March but Islamic State delayed its announcement to allow time to line up a successor. Yet there was no immediate word from IS about who would take over for the ginger-bearded jihadist who held as many as three senior posts and was a strong force for recruitment from Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region and Central Asia.
“(IS) lost something important: the charisma that he had to inspire and seduce Salafists from Chechnya, the Caucasus and Azerbaijan – the former Soviet republics,” Hashimi said.
Asked about the potential impact, MacFarland said it could disrupt Islamic State operations if Shishani were indeed dead. “They would have to figure out who’s going to pick up his portfolio,” he said.
Born in 1986 in Georgia, then still part of the Soviet Union, Shishani once fought with Chechen rebels against the Russian military in the Caucasus province. He then joined independent Georgia’s military in 2006 and fought in its brief war with Russia two years later before receiving a medical discharge, according to U.S. officials.
Shishani was one of only a few Islamist leaders with a professional military background and had several hundred fighters, mostly from ex-Soviet republics, under his command when he came to prominence in a 2013 battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in northern Syria.—Reuters

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