Meet the Syrian Rebel Commander
Assad, Russia and the U.S. All Fear
Tarkhan Batirashvili, Ethnic Chechen, Leads Group Deeply at Odds with Western-Backed Rebels in Syria
By ALAN CULLISON, WSJ, Nov. 19, 2013
For months, Syrian government forces hunkered down at a remote air base north of Aleppo, deftly fending off rebel assaults—until one morning a war machine rumbled out of the countryside, announcing that the Chechens had arrived.
The vehicle was notable for its primal scariness: Rebels had welded dozens of oil-drilling pipes to the sides of the armored personnel carrier, and packed it with four tons of high explosives, according to videos released online by the rebels.
It was piloted by a suicide driver, who detonated the vehicle at the base, sending a ground-shaking black cloud into the sky in an attack that analysts said finally cleared the way for rebels to storm the airfield.
The final capture of the airport in August immediately boosted the prestige of its unruly mastermind Tarkhan Batirashvili, according to analysts—an ethnic Chechen whose warring skills, learned in the U.S.-funded Georgian army, are now being put to use by a group deeply at odds with more mainstream Western-backed rebels.
…Even by the gruesome standards of the war in Syria, their rise has become notable for its unusual violence. One rebel from Russia’s Dagestan, for instance, was chased out of the country after he appeared in an online video where he beheaded three locals for supporting the Syrian government, according to analysts with ties to the rebel groups. And just last week, Mr. Batirashvili’s group apologized for mistakenly beheading a wounded soldier who actually turned out to be an allied rebel commander….
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