Confirmed: Islamic State top commander dead

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Omar al-Shishani, a top ISIL commander who was a magnet for fighters from the former Soviet Union, has died of wounds suffered in a US air strike in Syria, a senior Iraqi official and a Syrian activist group said.

Shishani, who was wounded this month, died on Monday outside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s main stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, the two told the AP news agency. A US military spokesman confirmed the reports.

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The red-bearded Shishani from a small village of Jokolo in Georgia’s Pankisi valley, in his 30s, was one of the most prominent ISIL commanders, appearing in several online videos leading fighters into battle. He served as the top commander in Syria before being appointed to lead three elite units that carried out special missions in Syria and Iraq, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar who closely follows the group.

He first surfaced in Syria in 2013 with his nom de guerre, which means “Omar the Chechen” in Arabic, leading an al-Qaeda-inspired group called “The Army of Emigrants and Partisans,” which included a large number of fighters from the former Soviet Union.

Some 1,500 battle-hardened fighters from the Caucasus region joined ISIL because of Shishani, Hashimi said.

A US air strike targeted Shishani on March 4 near Syria’s eastern town of Shaddadeh, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said last week.

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Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said after Shishani was wounded, ISIL “brought a number of doctors to treat him, but they were not able to”.

The spokesman for the US-led coalition, Army Colonel Steve Warren, said on Tuesday the coalition was able to “assess that he is dead” and that it “got the word Monday morning.”

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