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Georgian Militant Fighting With IS Reported Killed In Kobani

Islamic State military leader Umar al-Shishani (aka Tarkhan Batirashvili) (left) is one of the disproportionately high number of Georgian-born ethnic Chechens fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State military leader Umar al-Shishani (aka Tarkhan Batirashvili) (left) is one of the disproportionately high number of Georgian-born ethnic Chechens fighting in Syria and Iraq.

A 21-year-old Georgian man has been killed fighting alongside the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Kobani, according to Georgian and Russian media reports.

The man, named as Zelimkhan Chatiashvili, is from the village of Birkiani in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia and is likely a member of Georgia's Kist (ethnic Chechen) community.

It is not known how many Georgians are fighting in Syria but there is no evidence to suggest that numbers are large. According to Russian state news outlet "Rossiiskaya gazeta," there are between 50 and 100 Georgians from Pankisi in Syria, while local residents in Georgia put the numbers as between 50-60.

Even though the actual numbers of Georgians from Pankisi fighting in Syria are not high -- particularly when compared with the number of Western European fighters (there are an estimated 500 German nationals fighting with IS in Syria, for example, a number of whom are from the Chechen diaspora) -- the role of Pankisi's Kist community in Syria and in particular in Islamic State has been the focus of intense media attention in recent months.

Many news reports have labeled the region as a hotbed of radicalization, though local residents have insisted that this is not the case.

A July report by quotes one local Pankisi woman as saying that most of the Pankisi residents who headed to Syria did so at the start of the Syrian civil war and that in recent years the flow of potential fighters has stopped. "We would know about it," the Pankisi resident, who requested anonymity, said.

The main reason that Pankisi has been disproportionately referred to as a breeding ground for jihadis is the fact that militants from Pankisi are themselves disproportionately represented in leadership positions in Chechen factions (and now the IS group) in Syria.

Pankisi's most famous militant is Umar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili), now Islamic State's military commander in Syria. Batirashvili hails from Birkiani, the same village as the recently killed Chatiashvili.

Salakhuddin al-Shishani (Feyzulla Margoshvili), the leader of the prominent Chechen faction Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, which describes itself as the official branch of the Caucasus-based militant group Caucasus Emirate, is also from Pankisi, as is Muslim al-Shishani (Murad Margoshvili), the leader of the Latakia-based faction Junud al-Sham. (The two are not known to be related, though they share a surname.)

Unlike Umar al-Shishani, both Salakhuddin and Muslim are reputed to have fought in the Russo-Chechen wars before joining the fight in Syria, as di another Pankisi militant, Seyfullakh al-Shishani or Ruslan Machaliashvili, who was killed in Syria earlier this year. Seyfullakh al-Shishani spent time in Turkey and was involved with the Turkish charity IMKANDER, which has openly supported the idea of Chechens fighting in Syria.

Other Pankisi militants, including a former associate of Umar al-Shishani named Abu Abdullakh al-Shishani (real name Khamzat Achishvili), went to Syria after spending some time in the Chechen diaspora in Europe. There is photographic and video evidence to suggest that Achishvili, who was killed in July 2013 when his Chechen-led group fought alongside Islamic State in Syria's Aleppo Province, was introduced to radical Islam in Austria, where he spent most of his life.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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