Pankisi Resident Killed in Syria Fighting for ISIS

TBILISI - A 21-year-old ethnic Chechen from Georgia’ s Pankisi Gorge was reportedly killed in Syria fighting alongside the terrorist group ISIS, Russian-language news portal kavkaz-uzel reported Thursday.

Sultan Gumashvili, a native of the Pankisi village Dumasturi, reportedly travelled to Syria with his father Adam in 2013 when he was only 18 years of age, local villagers told officials from the nearby district capital Akhmeta.

Details regarding the circumstances of Gumashvili’s death remain unavailable, but according to representatives from Akhmeta, Gumashvili’s confirmed his death and said he would be buried immediately in Syria following Muslim tradition.

“Gumashvili’s grandfather Suleyman confirmed that his grandson had died fighting for ISIS in Syria. His family is currently accepting visitors who offer their condolences at their house in Dzhokolo,” Kakheti Information Center editor Gela Mtivlishvili said.

According to residents, Gumashvili hails from an influential Pankisi family. Suleyman Gumashvili – his grandfather - is a well-known local poet, writer and one-time chairman of the region’s council of elders.

His two brothers, Zaur and Bakar, previously served as deputy governor and head of the administration of Duisi – Pankisi’s largest village.

Most notable is his father Adam, known by the alias Guram. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Adam Gumashvili is the current Minister of Justice for ISIS.

In July, the elder Gumashvili and fellow Pankisi resident Ruslan Tohosashvili made an audio recording that urged Pankisi’s residents to travel to Syria and volunteer to fight for ISIS, kavkaz-uzel reported.

In the recording, Gumashvili and Tohosashvili accused their family members of cowardice at not having already joined the ranks of the terrorist group.

The audio recording was the second-known appeal by ISIS fighters to Georgia’s Muslim minority, urging them to make their way to Syria with the sole purpose of taking up arms for the Islamic State.

In a November 2015 video, several individuals – speaking in Georgian and Russian - called for  Georgia’s Muslim population to rise against the country's Orthodox Christian majority and help incorporate Georgia into ISIS' self-declared caliphate.

The Pankisi Gorge is an isolated region of Georgia, historically populated by over 10,000 ethnic Chechens. Located on the border between Georgia and Russia’s restive North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, the region has been a hotbed for ISIS recruits in recent years.

The rise of Salafism – colloquially referred to as Wahhabism – has plagued Pankisi’s population for more than a decade, as radical missionaries from the Arabian Peninsula have attempted to subvert the Chechens’ traditionally tolerant Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and mystical Sufi traditions by branding the non-Salafists as takfiris, or apostates.

Members of the younger generation have in recent years turned on their elders’ traditions and embraced the more extremist practices taught by Salafist imams, who then actively recruit young converts to join ISIS and other terrorist groups operating in Syria and northern Iraq.

Several young men from Pankisi have been drawn to the terrorist group’s ranks after ginger-bearded local resident Tarkhan Batirashvili – known by his nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen) – became one of ISIS’ top field commanders.

Shishani was reportedly killed in July after being targeted by US special forces in al-Shirqat, Iraq.

By Nicholas Waller

Photo: Chechen cemetery in Pankisi

Source: The Intercept

25 August 2016 16:56