People are also impressed by Azrael’s sense of humor. He mocks ISIS frequently. In one video, he even pokes fun at the group by using one of its walkie-talkies. In some ways, he is becoming a caricature of himself. Azrael has even been made into a cartoon showing him attacking a member of ISIS. But questions persist: do we know the real Azrael?

The real Azrael was born as Ayoub Faleh Al-Rabieia, according to news channel France 24. His age is unknown, although reports suggest he is between 37 and 40 years old. France 24 says he was known for studying athletics before going on to become a university lecturer. Azrael is known to have five children. He is also reportedly a Taekwondo master.

Azrael became a militant later on, but the impetus for these events is a mystery. France 24 said Azrael was originally fighting against America when they invaded Iraq. He may have even been on America’s list of terrorists. But nowadays, things are much different. The U.S. supports Azrael’s group in its war against ISIS.

In fact, the Iraqi public seems to believe in Azrael. His face adorns t-shirts sold in many markets of Baghdad. His actions have inspired hope in many people who have felt marginalized and frightened by the brutal conflict that has engulfed their country. They need his leadership more than ever before.

The militia has categorically denied that they shared images of decapitated fighters. Azrael told France 24 that he was a man of his word.  “I stand by my words. That’s why people prefer me instead of having a dishonest political who announces measures on TV but does nothing.”

Azrael does have his detractors. Some people believe that his militia have glamorized the violence of war by publishing the videos. Like other militias in the region, Amnesty International has accused the Imam Ali brigade of war crimes. They say Azrael’s groups are killing and displacing many Iraqis. And some people say they have circulated videos showing images like decapitated heads of ISIS members.

Sometimes Azrael even uploads videos to YouTube while engaged in battle, in order to dispute the claims of ISIS. Azrael says he has around 220,000 Facebook followers, a number that continues to grow. He is a force to be reckoned with.

Like others who have learned to leverage social media, Azrael has been able to get a remarkable number of views on his  videos. One of his first videos has already amassed two billion views.

Azrael seems to be a well organized machine, using two smartphones to record his attacks on ISIS and then post them to the internet, where they are shared on social media. Azrael and his cohorts are well built and strong, and they carry weapons like guns, grenades and smoke bombs.

The Imam Ali brigade have been important players in the battle against ISIS in Iraq. They were part of the forces which recaptured the Iraqi city Tikrit, which had fallen into terrorist hands. Azrael was captured on video firing a huge machine gun at ISIS in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was liberated from ISIS in June of 2016.

Azrael may have taken up arms after a call to action by the Ayatollah Sistani, a Shiite leader, who wanted me n to battle ISIS. Azrael was initiated and set up his own group, the Imam Ali brigade, which by most accounts he leads.

Henry Sapiecha