Since the announcement of Umar Shishani’s death on 13 July, there has been a process of mythologizing of Umar on Russian-language IS channels and other social media channels. This has been carried out both by “official” channels but also by regular posters on Telegram chats and Facebook. I’ve written about this in a piece for IHS Janes if you have access to that. Some of the mythologizing has taken the form of storytelling about Umar, which serve to emphasize some of his traits — in particular that he was a humble man who deeply loved his fellow North Caucasian IS fighters, who in turn loved him back. Here is the Story Of How Umar Shishani Went Hungry So The Brothers Could Eat’, plus some photos of Young Umar & Umar’s House.
On Twitter, they’re writing about Amir Sheikh Umar ash-Shishani:
“He made one brother cry. During a communal meal, Umar did not eat anything and when everyone had left the table, one brother remained to observe what Umar would do. And he gathered the crumbs from the table after the brothers and ate. That brother wept, deeply moved. Such an amir to be hungry but not eat in front of the brothers because he feared that someone would not have enough. About this one could tell many stories. He even did not bathe until all the brothers had bathed, so that there would be enough water for everyone.”
Here’s Young Umar, shared on Telegram, as well as Umar’s House In Pankisi. One of the photos of Umar I’ve seen before.
While we’re here. The story about Umar’s brother is not new. It’s been around for ages, I think Alan Cullison wrote about it back in 2014. Since then it has resurfaced as a SHADOWY COMMANDER story usually after some story about Umar’s death. Non-IS North Caucasians are aware that he is or was in Syria — several sources say he was there but they cannot confirm he still is as they are not in IS. (After IS split from JMA, the two groups of North Caucasians — IS and non-IS — are in “different worlds” as one source previously put it.) One source said that the brother got to Syria after Umar but I have heard rumors of the opposite. He’s never been mentioned anywhere on IS chats in Russian that I or colleagues have seen. I am wary of making assumptions of someone’s importance based on media rumors — of course SHADOWY COMMANDER stories make thrilling headlines but balancing what information is available I think the most I can conclude is the same as before, that Umar’s brother was and likely still is in Syria with IS but there is no information about his duties. There is no evidence I have seen to indicate that he is “in the shadows” behind Umar, at least not in any exciting spy novel sense of the term. That doesn’t mean he isn’t, but one can’t prove a negative. But that’s why I write here and the other places I do and why I quit journalism, I guess. Though maybe one day I should write a novel, THE COMMANDER IN THE SHADOWS.