Senior Islamic State military commander, ’emir of suicide bombers’ among Treasury’s terrorism designations

The US Treasury Department added 11 jihadists and one terrorist group to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists today. The jihadists designated include a top military commander in the Islamic State who hails from the Russian Caucasus, and the group’s “emir of suicide bombers.”

Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a Georgian national who is better known as Omar al Shishani, and Tariq Bin Al Tahar Bin Al Falih Al ‘Awni Al Harzi, who has orchestrated hundreds of suicide attacks, including scores executed by jihadists from across the globe, were among the 11 individuals from the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and Jemaah Islamiyah who were listed by Treasury as global terrorists.

Also today, the US State Department added two terrorist groups, the Chechen-led Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and the Moroccan-led Harakat Sham al Islam, as well as leaders and operatives from al Qaeda, the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, Junud al Islam, and Shabaab. [See LWJ reports, State Department designations target al Qaeda’s international network and State Department adds Chechen, Moroccan-led jihadist groups to terrorist list.]

Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvilic / Omar al Shishani

Amriki Shishani.jpg

Abu Muhammad al (“the American”) [far right with index finger raised], walking alongside Omar al Shishani [center, with red beard].

Batirashvilic goes by the nom de guerre Omar al Shishani, or Omar the Chechen, though he is a Georgian national. He served as a soldier in the Georgian Army and fought against the Russians in the Russo-Georgian War of 2008.

He entered Syria in 2012 and led the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, or the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, which has a large cadre of fighters from the Russian Caucasus. Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar is closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and other Syria jihadist groups.

He pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State, in 2013. This caused a split within Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar. Most of the group opted not to fight for the Islamic State, and remained an independent fighting force under the command of Salahuddin al Shishani. Al Shishani’s pledge to al Baghdadi was controversial, as he had previously given bayat to Doku Umarov, who at the time was the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate.

Al Shishani “has held a number of top military positions within” the Islamic State. He “was a senior ISIL [Islamic State] commander and Shura Council member located in al-Raqqah, Syria,” the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria, as of mid-2014, Treasury says.

Among his responsibilities are: directing military operations in Iraq, including the June offensive that saw the Islamic State take over vast areas of the country; serving as the group’s military commander and then emir in northern Syria; and running a prison in Tabqa that “possibly held foreign hostages.”

Al Shishani “was also in charge of fighters from Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus,” Treasury states. At one time, he “led approximately 1,000 foreign fighters for ISIL to attack the Syrian regime at Jabal Shuwayhnah, Rif Aleppo, Syria.”

He is considered to be a highly effective military leader and is rumored to be the Islamic State’s military commander after the prior military emir, Abu Abdul Rahman al Bilawi al Anbari, was killed during fighting in Mosul in June.

Tariq Bin Al Tahar Bin Al Falih Al ‘Awni Al Harzi

Al Harzi serves as the Islamic State’s “emir of suicide bombers and a key figure in an ISIL facilitation network that played a central role in ISIL’s suicide and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks in Iraq,” Treasury reports. He has also led the group’s “foreign operations.”

He is an original member of the Islamic State who is active in fundraising and recruiting fighters, including European jihadists.

“Al Harzi has been recruiting and facilitating the travel of fighters for ISIL since 2013,” Treasury states. “He was named ISIL’s Amir for the border region between Syria and Turkey and, in this capacity, he was tasked by ISIL with receiving new foreign fighter recruits and providing them light weapons training before sending them to Syria. Specifically, he facilitated the movement of Europeans to Turkey, and eventually Syria.” Al Harzi helped fighters from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Albania, and North Africa enter Iraq and Syria.

In the past, the Islamic State has publicized foreign fighters’ roles in launching suicide attacks in Iraq. In the winter and spring of 2014, the Islamic State released numerous statements touting suicide attacks carried out by jihadists from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan or Pakistan, Tajikistan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya, France, and Denmark. [See LWJ report, ISIS names Danish, French suicide bombers killed in ‘Ninewa Division’ and Threat Matrix report, ISIS again touts French and other foreign suicide bombers for examples.]

Al Harzi additionally leads the Islamic State’s “foreign operations,” or attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.

“In mid-2013, Al-Harzi was also the leader of foreign operations for ISIL and had ordered individuals to plan a large operation targeting a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) commander, according to information available to the U.S. Government,” Treasury says.

Other Islamic State operatives designated today

The US State Department also designated three other Islamic State leaders and operatives today.

Amru al Absi serves as the Islamic State’s “provincial leader for Homs, Syria” and “has been in charge of kidnappings,” according to State.

Salim Benghalem is described as a “Syria-based French extremist and ISIL member, who carries out executions on behalf of the group.” He was sentenced to prison in France for a murder in 2001, and is wanted in Europe for his involvement with the Islamic State.

Lavdrim Muhaxheri is “a Kosovar Albanian foreign fighter … who operates in both Syria and Iraq.” This summer, he published photographs on Facebook that showed him beheading a man.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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  • Tom says:

    Once again freezing non-existent assets and most people will ignore the restrictions anyway.
    In Syria, JAN and IS are back on the same page and many rebel groups are now in talks with IS, including the Islamic Front who lost two commanders who were discussing a joint JAN/IF offensive on the Tishrin Dam as a prelude to marching on Raqqah and were discussing coordinating it with YPG. No longer, US airstrikes on JAN killed that plan.
    Seriously the most successful leaders are those who know when to do nothing. The correct response to 9/11 was not to go to war with the Taliban, which was illegal by the way as the Taliban had no part in 9/11, but to accept the Taliban offer to turn Osama over to the Hague or present our evidence to a Taliban Extradition Court, or let the Taliban turn Osama over to Saudi Arabia. Bush chose war and now we lost over 2,000 Americans for nothing not to mention the losses to Afghanis themselves who weren’t involved in 9/11.
    The correct response to the IS surge was not to get involved in the sectarian struggle, but let the various groups kill each other and stalemate out followed by a political war as all sides negotiated a power sharing deal like Lebanon did. Getting involved has bolstered IS’s propaganda war and increased its ranks and despite the air strikes is now back on the offensive.
    Obama can’t grasp that the Sunni Audience is what matters in this war, not the American Public Opinion, and if Sunnis see that Obama has sided with Assad and Iran, he can forget about flipping them as now their choice is be slaughtered by Assad/Iran or live under IS no matter how unpalatable its harsh rule.

  • RanaSahib says:

    You’re perspective is accurate and realistic. Unfortunately, doing nothing was not seen as an option by either the Bush Administration or by the Obama government.
    This has become a war of attrition and the U.S. and its allies have already signalled their waning intentions by refusing to commit ground troops.
    So, what happens next? The Islamic State grows in strength, stature and alliances, as you correctly predict.
    In this war, patience is a virtue that has military value as realized by the Islamic State, the Taliban et. al., unlike its opponents.


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