UK & World News

  • 11 July 2014, 9:03

'Omar The Chechen' Should Come Home, Says Dad

The father of ISIS commander Omar al Shishani has told Sky News his son felt rejected by his country when he left to fight jihad.

With his distinctive red beard, al Shishani has become one of the most recognisable faces of a group now notorious for extreme brutality in its pursuit of an Islamic state across large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

But his father remembers a young man who was never particularly religious, but who always wanted to be a soldier.

Born in the remote Pankisi Gorge in Northern Georgia, an area once seen as a stronghold for Chechen militants, his real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili.

When he was younger, he worked as a shepherd boy in the hills above the gorge, where he reportedly first met Chechen fighters, crossing the Caucasus mountains to fight Russian forces across the border.

"He was a very good boy, very well behaved," Timur Batirashvili remembers.

"Always very intelligent, very nice, he hated when people lied.

"Do you know what I think now? I didn't know my son. I didn't know him at all."

Tarkhan joined the Georgian army and served in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. His father said he seemed happy, that he had found his place in the world.

He was due to be promoted to become an officer, and told his father their lives were about to change, that he was going to earn so much more money.

But then he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to hospital, after which he was discharged from the army on medical grounds.

He tried and failed to get back in - Mr Batirashvili said he was "tormented" - sent from office to office to no avail.

A few months later he was arrested and sent to prison for possession of illegal weapons.

"When he came back from prison he was really thin," Mr Batirashvili said.

"He lost his colour in prison, and he told me, 'Father, this means that this country doesn't need me.'

"I haven't seen him ever since. He felt really bad, he was really angry.

"He made a pact that if he left the prison alive he would start a holy war for God.

"'I will start a holy war in the name of God', he said, and that's what he's doing right now."

He reappeared in Syria last year under a new name, Omar al Shishani - which translates as Omar the Chechen - and became the leader of an al Qaeda-inspired group, The Army of Emigrants and Partisans, before pledging his allegiance to ISIS.

Mr Batirashvili said his son phoned him once, asking whether everything was okay, and whether he was praying to God.

When he replied that he was praying to Saint George, a Christian saint, al Shishani told him he should convert to Islam and hung up.

We asked him what he would say to his son if he could speak to him now.

He said: "Come back home. I am an old man. I need to be taken care of, I need to be looked after. Come home."

 

Advertisement