One of the most feared ISIS executioners in Syria is on Russia’s federal wanted list, and his identity has finally been revealed as 28-year-old Anatoly Zemlyanka. Known previously only as ‘Jihad Vlad’, Zemlyanka is believed to have beheaded fellow Russian, and suspected spy, Magomed Khasiev in Syria as a warning message to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
With that killing Zemlyanka also sent a message to Russia, telling Putin:
“Here today, on this blessed land, the battle begins. We shall kill your children for every child you’ve killed here.”
Now details of his former life in Russia, his family and childhood are coming to light for the first time.
Former teachers and coaches, and even Zemlyanka’s own mother have stepped forward with information about him.
One former teacher described him as a bad student, saying his schoolwork was usually unsatisfactory.
“He wasn’t a hooligan, quite the opposite,” said the teacher, according to The Daily Mail. “Demure, and very ordinary.”
Thai boxing coaches who said that Zemlyanka came to them for training described him as a strong, muscular man, but a weak and poor sportman who couldn’t handle defeat.
“He wasn’t that kind,” said one. “Not a fighter’s character.”
Zemlyanka’s mother, who adopted him from a Russian orphanage when he was a child, is an Orthodox Christian woman who ran a kitchenware shop that has since closed.
Despite a Christian upbrining, he converted to Islam and chose to study law at a small Russian college.
Eventually he fled Russia last year for Syria, possibly bringing a girlfriend with him at the time, and joined ISIS when he arrived via Turkey.