IS commander ‘Omar the Chechen’ survived US strike: monitor

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Top Islamic State (IS) militant commander Omar al-Shishani, known as Omar the Chechen, was “seriously injured” in a recent strike in northeastern Syria but not killed despite suggestions by United States (US) officials to the contrary, a monitoring group said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that according to its sources the March 4 strike had indeed targeted the militant’s convoy, killing his bodyguards, while Shishani himself “was seriously injured”.

“He’s not dead,” the Observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman said. “He was taken from the province of Hasake to a hospital in Raqa province where he was treated by a jihadist doctor of European origin,” he said. Raqa is IS’s main stronghold.

The US had stopped short of declaring Shishani dead, but a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said Shishani “likely died” in the assault by waves of US warplanes and drones, along with 12 other IS fighters.

The US official branded Shishani “the ISIL equivalent of the secretary of defence”, using another acronym for the group. Shishani was one of the IS leaders most wanted by Washington, which put a $5 million bounty on his head.

While Shishani’s exact rank is unclear, Richard Barrett of the US-based Soufan Group has described him as IS’s “most senior military commander”, adding that he has been in charge of key battles.

Shishani is not, however, a member of IS’s political leadership, a structure that is even murkier than its military command.

The lack of a US presence on the ground makes it difficult to assess the success of operations targeting militants in Syria, and Shishani’s death has been falsely reported several times.

The March 4 strikes took place near Al-Shadadi, a town in northeastern Syria that was retaken from IS last month by local anti-IS fighters allied with the US-led coalition.

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