I love picking up local newspapers when I travel. Today I found a remarkable story in the Georgia Journal about meeting the father of the world’s most notorious terrorist, Omar al-Shishani, who was born Tarkhan Batirashvili in a small town of Birkiani in Pankisi, Georgia. Temur Batirashvili lamented in what the interviewers said was a sad and lonely rant about how terrible it is to have a terrorist for a son. “You ruined me, Tarkhan,” he told the team from the Journal.
The intrepid reporters were nervous venturing out into the province to meet a man who is related to the terrorist, who is now rampaging Syria and Iraq and lives in an opulent compound surrounded by 40 armed guards. “The Pankisi Gorge is not the ideal place to start asking questions about its most famous native son, that made a name for itself by cutting off the heads of journalists and massacring any village that stands in its way. They found the father eccentric, and said that he just can’t help himself from speaking to the media.
“But something isn’t quite right. The old man tells story after story about “Tarkhan.” We remind ourselves that Temur’s jihadist son and his 40 personal guards have much more to worry about than bursting through the door silencing his father and removing our heads. And then it hits us. This little elderly Georgian man is lonely. He has a collection of business cards on his table that is a Who’s Who of notable western journalists–who have come to see him for one reason, to get information about his son. He blows most of them off, but because two of us are Georgian he talks to us. Deep down he simply wants attention.
“My son, my sweet Tarkhan would never kill a man, I do not believe it,” he tells us when we ask him about the various accounts of ISIS brutality in Syria. For him Abu Omar al-Shishami is still young Tarkan Batirashvili, the sweet freckled ginger boy with a penchant for geography who was bullied by the UNM government and driven down this path by forces out of his control. That’s how dear old dad sees it anyway.”
The story reveals that Tarkhan fought against Russia in the 2008 conflict in Georgia and one of his friends was killed, then he was put in prison which led to his radicalization.