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Defence Minister: Death of Georgian-born IS commander not confirmed yet

By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, March 10
The Georgian Defence Minister, Tina Khidasheli, says that the information received from the Pentagon about the death of the Islamic State's top field commander, Tarkhan Batirashvili, also known as Abu Omar al-Shishani, has not officially been confirmed yet.

“I received the information about Batirashvili’s possible death. However, we are waiting for a final answer and this information remains as a presumption only,” stated Khidasheli, and added that the Georgian side is actively cooperating with the Pentagon over this issue.

The news about the possible death of the Georgian-born terrorist was spread on March 8 by the Pentagon. The US side stated that he might be among 12 other deceased due to a US-led air strike in town of al-Shadadi, Syria.

"Batirashvili is a battle-tested leader with experience who had led IS fighters in numerous engagements in Iraq and Syria," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement and explained that al-Shishani’s death will have a negative influence on ISIS’s capability to recruit foreign fighters and degrade ISIS's ability to coordinate attacks.

Residents of Pankisi Gorge, from where Batirashvili is from, have not yet confirmed his death.

“We have not heard any information on this. I only know he was in Syria but I have no idea where he went afterwards’,”The Imam of the Gorge, Omar Khangoshvili, said.

According Al-Shishani’s father, Temur Batirashvili, who still lives in Pankisi Gorge, he was not contacted and knows nothing. He hopes that the news is false and his son is still alive.

"I do not know anything. I heard the news on TV that he was caught up in a US-led bombing. I hope it is not true,” Batirashvili’s father said.

Tarkhan Batirashvili was born in Georgian in 1986. He fought in military operations as a rebel in Chechnya before joining Georgia's military in 2006. He was arrested in 2010 for weapons possession and spent more than a year in jail, before leaving Georgia in 2012 for Istanbul and then later travelling to Syria. In 2013 he joined IS and soon became military adviser to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. There has been a $5 million reward for al-Shishani from the U.S. State Department.