A jihadist propaganda outlet that is linked to the Islamic State has denied the US killed Omar al Shishani, a senior military commander, in an airstrike last week. Shishani’s status has been uncertain since the US announced it targeted him last week, and it is still unknown if he is dead, alive, or seriously wounded.
The claim was posted on the website of the ‘Amaq News Agency, which is linked to the Islamic State and often provides reliable information about the group’s local and international operations. According to ‘Amaq, not only was Shishani not killed, he was not wounded in the airstrike.
“Urgent: A source for ‘Amaq Agency denied what the American Defense Department (Pentagon) announced about the killing of Sheikh Omar al Shishani, and asserted that he was not exposed to any injury,” according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.
‘Amaq’s claim that Shishani was unharmed in the March 4 airstrike in Shaddadi, Syria cannot be verified. The Islamic State has not released an official statement concerning Shishani’s status, and the US military has yet to officially announce his that he was killed in the airstrike.
The US military officially announced on March 9 that it targeted Shishani in an airstrike in Shaddadi, but stopped short of declaring Shishani dead. [See LWJ report, US targeted senior Islamic State military commander in airstrike in Syria for more information on the strike and background on Shishani]
After the US stated it targeted Shishani, Rami Abdel Rahman, the director Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), told AFP on March 10 that the Islamic State military commander’s convoy was indeed targeted and several of his cadre were killed, but Shishani himself survived and “was seriously injured.”
Three days later, on March 13, the SOHR’s director said “Shishani is not able to breathe on his own and is using machines. He has been clinically dead for several days,” Al Manar reported.
Yesterday, two unnamed US officials told CNN that Shishani was indeed killed in the strike, but did not provide details on how his death was confirmed. However the US official’s anonymous statements concerning Shishani falls short of an official announcement.
The US military and intelligence services may not be able to confirm Shishani’s status unless the Islamic State decides to provide the information. Given Shishani’s high profile and status as an influential commander among foreign and local fighters, it is likely that the Islamic State will weigh in on his fate one way or another. Either the Islamic State will release a martyrdom statement (which can be delayed weeks or months), or a an official statement denying his death, or audio or video evidence that Shishani is alive. It is also possible that the Islamic State will remain silent in order to confuse intelligence services.