TBILISI, DFWatch–An 18 year old Georgian has died in the Syrian civil war. He is the sixth fighter to die in the war who is a native of Pankisi Gorge.
Pankisi Gorge in the northeast of Georgia was used as a jihadist base during both Chechen wars, and this was where the United States went in for the first time with military aid to Georgia in 2002, to counter the threat of islamic extremism.
Kakheti Information Center reported that Besik Kushtanashvili is the sixth Pankisi native to die while fighting in the Syrian war.
Residents in Omalo, the village where Kushtanashvili came from, told journalists that his family had no knownledge about his involvement in the Syrian war.
It is still unknown whether the 18 years old was a member of ISIS or other extremist groups which are trying to topple Bashar al-Assad.
Relatives of Kushtanashvili said he left for Turkey together with his siblings this summer, soon after graduating from school, ostensibly to work there. Going to Turkey to work is common among Pankisi residents. His family had no suspicion that anything was wrong before they received information that their boy had died.
Pankisi Gorge, which is inhabited mostly by Kists, a subgroup of Chechens who are natives of Georgia, has seen an influx of Sunni radicalism over the last decade, especially young people.
A few years ago, a retired corporal of Georgia’s armed forces left Pankisi Gorge for Turkey. His name: Tarkhan Batirashvili, a half-Georgian and half-Chechen, who later ended up as a senior field commander of ISIS.
On Thursday, Batirashvili, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Umar al-Shishani (Abu Omar the Chechen), was designated by the Obama administration, along with other 20 people, as a terrorist to whom sanctions apply.
Batirashvili’s father, Temur Batirashvili, is an ethnic Georgian, a Christian.
In early February, during an assault on Aleppo prison, held by Assad’s forces, another top commander of Pankisi origins was killed; Seyphullah al-Shishani, a.k.a. Ruslan Machalikashvili. He used to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Abu Umar, but afterward Seyphyllah left Abu Umar’s group with a few dozen supporters and sided with the al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra front, which is an enemy of ISIS.
Yet another Pankisi native, Murad Margoshvili, a.k.a. Muslim al-Shishani, is another top military field commander associated with the al-Nusra front. He is commander of Junud al-Sham group, and his units were active during the Second Latakia Offensive in March, 2014.