(HAMA, Syria)--Salahuddin Shishani, a prominent Chechen commander in Syria who once led the radical jihadist group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) and who later joined the ranks of ISIS as one of its main field commanders, was killed over the weekend in an apparent airstrike carried out by Russia’s armed forces.
Pankisi-Born Chechen Commander Killed in Syria
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, December 19
According to unconfirmed reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Salahuddin was killed in the countryside near Hama in northwestern Syria during a fire fight between Islamist units and forces loyal to the Bashir al-Assad regime.
Prior to joining ISIS, Salahuddin served as emir of a jihadist outfit comprised of North Caucasians known as Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar and was the leader of the Caucasus Emirate’s official branch in the Levant.
Prior to moving to Syria, Salahuddin was a veteran of the jihad in the North Caucasus and Georgia.
Born Giorgi Kushtanashvili in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley, Salahuddin was a veteran of the two Chechen Wars in the 1990s and also participated in a large-scale anti-terrorist operation in 2012 that claimed the lives of several Chechen rebels and Georgian policemen.
Salahuddin later fled to Syria from Turkey, where he adopted his nom-de-guerre, which translates as Salahuddin the Chechen.
Shortly after arriving in Syria, Salahuddin replaced fellow Chechen and Pankisi native, Omar al-Shishani, as the commander of the JMA after several members refused to follow Omar’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
Salahuddin’s Chechen wife is reportedly living in Syria, while his parents and three children remain in Pankisi.
With his death, Salahuddin is the 25th ethnic Chechen from the Pankisi Valley to be killed in Syria.