Alleged Death Of ISIS’ ‘War Minister’ Highlights Rivalry With Al-Qaeda

ISIS is mourning the commander's alleged death, while al-Qaeda is celebrating

Abu Omar al-Shishani. — AP
Jul 14, 2016 at 7:48 AM ET

Jihadists’ responses to the alleged death of Abu Omar al-Shishani, ISIS’ so-called “minister of war,” has highlighted the deep rift between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

After an ISIS-linked media agency announced on Wednesday that al-Shishani was killed in an airstrike in Iraq, accounts affiliated with al-Qaeda and its official Syrian branch started celebrating—the latest sign of an ongoing al-Qaeda-ISIS rivalry.

The reason for the celebrations is rooted in old wounds. When al-Shishani moved to Syria in March 2012, he led a force of Chechen fighters aligned with the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Later, he pledged allegiance to ISIS—and took fighters with him, according to reports. After being appointed ISIS’ commander in northern Syria, he led an ISIS campaign in the first half of 2014 to push the Nusra Front from the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour, the town of Markadah, and other areas in Syria, according to reports by a journalist tracking Russian-speaking fighters in Syria, and reports in Arab media.

More ISIS “Minister Of War” Reportedly Killed In Iraq

Accounts affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Syrian opposition also accused al-Shishani of being responsible for the October 2014 deaths of hundreds of Sunnis belonging to an eastern Syrian tribe. “Praise is due to Allah, who has (relieved) this Ummah (Muslim community) of the evils of the criminal,” Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir, a senior al-Qaeda religious official in Syria, tweeted on Wednesday.

Another prominent account, belonging to a user self-identified as Abu Muhammad al-Falastini, described al-Shishani as “the Emir of ISIS in Deir ez-Zour” who led battles there. In a series of tweets, al-Falastini also accused al-Shishani of being behind the deaths of Sunni Muslims in eastern Syrian, including the deaths of Nusra Front members.

Other accounts affiliated with the Nusra Front celebrated reports that he was killed and accused him of refusing conciliation between the group and ISIS.

ISIS supporters, on the other hand, eulogized al-Shishani on social media and on the group’s forums. They posted threats aimed at revenge for al-Shishani’s alleged death. “The Caliphate will remain with the permission of God in spite of all the calamities,” users tweeted. “The land will burn and will shake Europe and America, and the sound of sirens will never stop there,” another ISIS supporter posted on Twitter. Another one wrote that “America and the Crusaders will regret” al-Shishani’s killing.

The U.S is trying to verify that a airstrike recently killed the top ISIS commander, after U.S. warplanes targeted him in Iraq over the last few days, U.S. officials told CNN. About four months ago, the U.S.-led coalition thought it had killed the commander in Syria.