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


Mariam Twaibu Shirika


Mariam Twaibu Shirika isn’t strong enough to work after the injuries she sustained when she was raped in her home 18 months ago. Now living in Goma in accommodation provided by Women for Women. Has three surviving children, three others died of illness in 1989.

My name is Miriam Shirika and I am weak. I am in the women’s group because of housing problems.

I was living with my mum, my children and my siblings in a tent where I also had a small stall.

On December 5, 2007, thugs broke into my house. They took everything that I had at that time. They broke in a second time on December 27th. They met nothing so they decided to rape.

There were four. They were in civilian clothing not in military clothing, and they were speaking Kinyrwandan, the language from Rwanda.

They tore everything with a knife, everything: all the clothes. They raped me before my brothers, my sister, my mother, my uncle and the children. So they intimidated them.

They did this act in their presence, they blocked my shoulders and they started to rape me in the presence of all.

The aim was to rape me and my children together. They stopped as I was struggling a lot. One of them locked my shoulder this side, another this side, another one took this leg, pulling it so one of them succeeded in raping me. My children were there and the children saw everything so I’m quite sure it affected them, my children.

The children were there, my mother was there, everybody was there. I was very ashamed because they were seeing me at every moment, my nakedness at every moment.

When I was raped I was mentally upset. I could be walking along the road, not concentrating. I couldn’t even see the car that was coming.

Then one day the [Women for Women] enrolment team was passing by. They met me and they saw that I had a problem and they took me as a special case.

I would go crazy but Women for Women are giving me morale and hope and they showed me how to live again and that’s why I’m trying to be strong for the sake of my children. And now I am getting a little bit better as we are getting the training about trauma.

Since that time I have stopped selling as I do not feel strong enough to do any activity.

I’m living in a house I rent for $3 a month. It’s in a very critical bad condition. When it rains I get wet. I am living like a bird, I don’t know whether I am going to eat or not.

I have a boy and two daughters. The first one is in high school, 6th form, but now he is not going to school. I can’t pay the school fees. He is now 24 years old.

The youngest daughter is in year five. She’ll be 13 in July.

The other daughter is now a street girl, she is not living with me now. She is 15 years old. I haven’t seen her for one month now. I don’t know what’s going on. I think she has met with some friends who are better off, who are from another class other than mine. And I even don’t have time to look for her because I have to struggle for the other one just to get something, just food.

When I moved I felt a little bit relieved. I couldn’t talk with [my children] about such an issue.

What can I tell them? I don’t know what to tell them. Even the relationship with my 15-year-old has worsened. I’m ashamed of myself, of what happened. I don’t feel responsible for those children.



Yafanshize Nihargwe was married at 17 and is now 22 years old. She and her husband were farmers in Massisi. She has been at Heal Africa in Goma since April 2004 with fistula, after being gang raped by soldiers while she was fleeing her home.

When I was eight months pregnant [my husband and I] ran away because of war.

One night we were in a field and we were visited by soldiers. Six soldiers took me and raped me, and then they took my husband. If he died or if he is alive, I don’t know.

And when they raped me, as I was eight months pregnant, the water began to break.

And then during the morning the ones who ran away far from where [the soldiers] were began to look for people who had died, and found that I was alive.

They took me up to the road and they brought me here to Goma. And [Heal Africa] begin to treat me.

There were so many patients at the hospital, so then they brought me here (to Heal Africa transit centre accommodation).

Now I have had five surgeries. I haven’t recovered yet and I am waiting for the sixth one.

The Interhamwe took my husband and I don’t know where he is. Sometimes when I think about my husband and how they took him, I think that he died.

My parents died while they were walking from the war. I have one brother and one sister left in Massisi. Five were killed during the war.

I used to pray and if God helps me to be well, to recover I will work only for God.

In a future life I cannot cultivate like before they raped me. Now if I am well I would go to the road with a machine and begin to sew for people.

If I recover I will get a place here in Goma, I can’t go back to Massisi. They say in Massisi the war continues, how could I go back?

Zamunda Sikujuwa


Zamunda Sikujuwa is 53 years old. Mai Mai rebels raped her and killed her husband and children in 2006. She blames her relatives for turning to the rebels and causing the attack.

I’m here for treatment for the way they broke my body.

I came from Kindu because I was left with nothing, not even my children. That’s what brought me here to Heal Africa.

Local soldiers and Mai Mai arrived in the village. After five days, seven people came and we had to give them money.

One night at 4am there was a big attack by soldiers. Then they took my husband.

The children were there and they brought the husband into the room, and they killed him. The children were killed at the same moment.

Then they entered the room and they put a gun into my private part.

People from across the road took me to a local hospital. A priest had me flown to Baucavu. I had surgery in Baucavu.

If I went back to Kindu [the soldiers] said they would cut up my body and eat my body so I have to stay in Goma. If I went back to Kindu I would die.

In the beginning was very difficult to walk.

I need to find somewhere to live.

I wake up every night thinking of my husband and my children. I wish sometimes soldiers would have killed me so I can’t live. I don’t have anywhere to go and no one to care for me.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha