The Current

Journalist recalls chance meeting with man who now leads ISIS

The hand of ISIS is suspected to be behind so many tragic events of late. And one of the main faces behind ISIS is commander Abu Omar al Shishani. But imagine looking at Abu Omar's face and thinking... "Haven't we met before?" Journalist Mitch Prothero shares his story.
McClatchy special correspondent Mitchell Prothero, right, is photographed during the 2008 Georgian War with a man who is said by Georgian sources to be Tarkhan Batirashvili (second from left), who presently fights for the Islamic State under the nom de guerre Abu Omar al Shishani. (Bryan Denton/McClatchy)

The last two weeks have left a lot of people wondering what else ISIS might be capable of.

First the group took credit for bringing down a commercial plane flying out of Sharm el Sheik in Egypt. Then, it claimed to have set off the worst series of suicide bombings Beirut had seen since the end of Lebanon's civil war, 25 years ago.

And, of course, there was Paris. None of the attacks have yet been proven to be the work of ISIS. But the possibility that some, or even all, were organized by the group is far from being ruled out. 

Before the attacks on Beirut and Paris, Anna Maria spoke with journalist Mitch Prothero about his insights into ISIS. He is the Iraqi Bureau Chief for McClatchy newspapers. They talked about Abu Omar al Shishani, one of the most respected and feared of ISIS' military commanders in Syria. Abu Omar al Shishani was born with the name Tarkhan Batirashvili.

And the story of how he became Abu Omar al Shishani speaks volumes about the sometimes unseen forces shaping the Middle East and the Caucasus.

Mitch Prothero tracked down the story as part of our series, Ripple Effect, and discovered an unlikely chain of events that began with an old, fading photograph. We reached him in Erbil in northern Iraq, last week, by skype.

This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott.