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Daesh leader Shishani dies of wounds from US strike in Syria

By AP - Mar 15,2016 - Last updated at Mar 15,2016

This image made from undated video posted during the weekend of June 28, 2014 on a social media account frequently used for communications by the Daesh terror group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Omar Al Shishani standing next to the group's spokesman among a group of militants, as they declare the elimination of the border between Iraq and Syria (AP photo)

BAGHDAD — Top Daesh commander and feared ethnic Chechen militant Omar Al Shishani has died of wounds suffered in a US air strike in Syria, a senior Iraqi intelligence official and the head of a Syrian activist group said on Tuesday.

Shishani, who was wounded in a US air strike earlier this month, died on Monday outside the Daesh terror group's main stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, the two told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate confirmation of his death from Daesh, but the Daesh-affiliated Aamaq news agency denied he was killed, saying that the "he was not subjected to any injury". The outlet quoted an unnamed "source" for the denial, without giving further details or evidence that Shishani was still alive.

An American spokesman for the US-led coalition battling Daesh in Iraq said the alliance was also confirming the militant commander had died.

The red-bearded ethnic Chechen was one of the most prominent Daesh commanders, who earlier served as the group's military commander for the territory it controls in Syria. He later became the commander of the group's ground forces, according to Hisham Al Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar and author who closely follows the group.

According to Rami Abdurrahman, of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian conflict through a network of activists on the ground, after Shishani was wounded, Daesh "brought a number of doctors to treat him, but they were not able to".

Abdurrahman said Shishani died in a hospital in the eastern suburbs of Raqqa. The Iraqi intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said the Daesh commander was buried in Deir Ezzor on Tuesday.

Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, was 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.

A US air strike targeted Shishani on March 4 near the town of Shaddadeh in Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters in a statement last week.

Shishani "had been sent to Shaddadeh to bolster ISIL [Daesh] fighters following a series of strategic defeats", Cook said in the statement.

The spokesman for the US-led coalition, US Army Col. Steve Warren said on Tuesday that the coalition was able to "assess that he is dead" and that it "got the word on Monday morning".

Warren described Shishani as a "very important figure", in Daesh, who was hit as part of a stepped-up campaign of US-led air strikes targeting Daesh leadership.

Last week, Waren told reporters that the air strike that targeted Shishani was part of a series of stepped-up coalition strikes targeting Daesh leadership.

Shishani was in the area of Shaddadeh "along with about a dozen other fighters who were in one spot... and we struck it", Warren said at the time.

Daesh which emerged from Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq, has many Iraqis among its top leaders. It blitzes across much of Iraq in the summer of 2014, capturing vast swaths of the country's north and west. It also exploited the chaos of Syria's civil war to seize large chunks of territory there as well and declared an Islamic self-styled "caliphate" on the territory it controls in both countries.

It subsequently drew hundreds of foreign fighters into its operations in Syria. The United Nations estimated that around 30,000 so-called foreign fighters from 100 countries are actively working with Daesh, Al Qaeda or other extremist groups. An earlier estimate by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, a think tank at King's College London, said Daesh militatns include 3,300 Western Europeans and 100 or so Americans.


Yet despite the US-led campaign of coalition air strikes in both Iraq and Syria, Daesh still controls large areas, including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul and also Raqqa, the group's main stronghold in Syria.

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