Top Islamic State group commander ‘killed’ in Iraq

Abu Omar al-Shishan

Abu Omar al-Shishan

A top Islamic State group commander, Omar al-Shishani, has been killed in Iraq, the jihadist-linked Amaq agency said on Wednesday.

Amaq did not specify when Shishani was killed, but the loss of the commander is a significant blow to the jihadist group, which has suffered a string of setbacks in Iraq this year.

The Pentagon announced in March that American forces had killed Shishani and said his death would likely hamper IS’s ability to carry out operations inside and outside of Iraq and Syria.

But it did not specify how or where he was killed.

US officials previously said Shishani “likely died” in an air strike, but reports surfaced that he had survived.

Shishani was a fierce, battle-hardened warlord with roots in Georgia and a thick red beard who was one of the most notorious faces of IS.

Shishani, whose nom de guerre means “Omar the Chechen”, was one of the IS leaders most wanted by Washington which had put a multi-million-dollar bounty on his head.

His exact rank was unclear, but US officials had branded him as “equivalent of the secretary of defence” for the jihadist group.

Shishani came from the former Soviet state of Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge region, which is populated mainly by ethnic Chechens.

He fought as a Chechen rebel against Russian forces before joining the Georgian military in 2006, and fought Russian forces again in Georgia in 2008.

He later resurfaced in northern Syria as the commander of a group of foreign fighters, and became a senior leader within IS.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but has since lost significant ground to Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes, training and other assistance.

The Sunni extremist group has responded to the battlefield setbacks by striking civilians, particularly Shiites, and experts have warned there may be more bombings as the jihadists continue to lose ground.