After ISIS rebels seized the Iraqi city of Mosul, photos emerged of an individual believed to be a top general in the terrorist network who is fast becoming a symbol of its globalization—because he has a red beard and is literally Caucasian.
Dubbed the “Ginger Jihadist of Mosul” by the International Business Times, the 28-year-old ethnic Chechen goes by the nom de guerre “Omar al-Shishani.” Born in Georgia as Tarkhan Batirashvili, he served in the Georgian army and adopted his war name, which means “Omar the Chechen,” in 2013. And unlike Iraqi ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is in hiding, al-Shishani has long made several appearances in videos and photos, including a recent shot in which he inspects allegedly American Humvees stolen from Iraq.
Reports from the AP and other news sources call him a “rising star” and speculate that he may have risen from being ISIS’ commander in Syria to becoming the group’s overall military chief. And he’s one of “hundreds” of Chechens who have fought with the group; the AP writes that ISIS’ recent declaration of a caliphate—a state for all Muslims—could lead to a “greater internationalization of its ranks.”
Hussein Nasser, a spokesman for one of Syria’s opposition groups, the Islamic Front coalition group of rebels, told the AP that Chechens like al-Shishani are the most feared soldiers in the conflict. He “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.”