As ISIS battles a joint military assault by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed militias for the city of Tikrit, Iraqis elsewhere have set their hopes on the burly shoulders of a man they’ve dubbed the Angel of Death.
Abu Azrael, as he is known, is purported to be a legendary commander of the Imam Ali Brigade, an Iranian proxy group fighting in Iraq. He has become a cult figure with Iraqi social media users creating tribute Facebook pages to him and circulating images of Abu Azrael holding axes, waving swords, and abusing the corpses of ISIS fighters.
Although his real identity remains unclear, local reports claim he’s worked as a university lecturer and that he at one point won Iraq’s national tae kwon do championship.
Tikrit is Saddam Hussein’s hometown and it has a great strategic and emotional importance for the country’s Sunni minority. Some local reports claim that the Iraqi and Shia forces have already seized large areas of the city.
من هو أبو عزرائيل؟ * انهُ المدرس الجامعي الذي غادر قاعة الدرس ملبيا نداء الجهاد * ماجستير تربية رياضية. pic.twitter.com/m2Ta1dVmhS
— هموم العراق (@hand_carry) March 8, 2015
Translation: “Who is Abu-Azrael? He’s s university lecturer who left the classroom to fulfill his Jihad duty.”
أبوعزرائيل يصبّح عليكم أسد كتائب الإمام عليّ pic.twitter.com/C7LKDQ0tPF
— المجتهد ٦٦ (@hero_m_66_m) March 9, 2015
Translation: “Morning with Abu-Azrael, the lion of al-Imam Ali brigades.”
— حسن #بكم_ننتصر (@Hasan_ali10) March 2, 2015
Translation: “The hero Abu-Azrael in the battle for Tikrit. May god bless the men of al-Hashed al-Shabi (Iraqi volunteer forces).”