Jihad Selfies: British Extremists in Syria Love Social Media
After being publicly sacked by al Qaeda leader Aymann al-Zawahiri and accidentally beheadinga fighter from one of their main allies in Syria, it’s fair to say the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s PR campaign has suffered in recent weeks. So, like any half decent group of militant extremists, they obviously want to address this slip. Unfortunately, a traditional media outreach is very difficult for them, given ISIS’s policy of kidnapping journalists. So they’ve turned, like many before them, to social media.
Over the past few weeks, foreign fighters from ISIS and their subgroup the Muhajireen Brigade have been busy uploading selfies across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, in an effort to publicize their cause and win more recruits to the Syrian jihad. They offer a bizarre and fascinating look inside Syria’s most feared and least understood militant groups.
On paper, the Muhajireen Brigade are separate to ISIS, but they’re considered by some analysts to be a front group for the larger jihadist outfit. The social media evidence seems to support this view.
This picture (above) shows British fighter Ibrahim al-Mazwagi in battle with Omar Shishani, a Georgian Chechen who formerly led the Muhajireen Brigade, and is now ISIS’s military commander in Northern Syria.
Al-Mazwagi was killed in battle in February, aged 21. This is a collage made to honor him as a martyr, along with his friend and fellow casualty, Abu Qudama.
Above are two other recent British martyrs, Choukri Ellekhlifi, 22, and Mohammed el-Araj, 23. The pair are shown here at a jihadist internet café in Atmeh, a Syrian border town that is now firmly under ISIS control.
Imagine how bummed you’d be if you were a normal dude who couldn’t get a girlfriend and then you saw this picture of 79-year-old Charles Manson and his 25-year-old fiancée.
What Happens After Police Shoot Innocent Bystanders?
On Wednesday, a judge ordered the city of Torrance, California, to release the name of the police officer who shot at surfer David Perdue during the February manhunt for former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner, who at the time was out to murder as many of his ex-colleagues as he could. At the time the officer came after Perdue, Dorner had already shot two sheriff’s deputies, killing one, and gunned down the daughter of a LAPD officer and her boyfriend.
Fearful that Dorner might go after a local LA police official next, Torrance cops pulled over Perdue on February 7, asked him a few questions, then let him drive away. A few seconds later a second cop car rammed his truck, and an unnamed officer fired three shots, all of which (thankfully) missed. Perdue’s attorney also alleges that he was dragged from his vehicle afterwards. Dorner, by the way, was black and Perdue is white.
Perdue wasn’t the only victim of the police and their sudden inability to see color during this manhunt. A pair of newspaper carriers—47-year-old Margie Carranza and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez—were fired on by LAPD officers that same day because their pickup truck apparently looked like vaguely like Dorner’s. That incident provoked a backlash against the LAPD after Hernandez was hit in the back twice and her daughter suffered a hand injury. In fact, Torrance police said they were responding to the report of these mistaken shots when they fired on Perdue. The mother and daughter received a combined $4.2 million from the LAPD for their troubles, while Perdue has refused to settle with the city for the $500,000 they offered him.
Last spring, the remains of 10 missing Afghan villagers were dug up outside a U.S. Special Forces base – was it a war crime or just another episode in a very dirty war?
How Jihadists Are Blackmailing, Torturing, and Killing Gay Syrians
Even between the plush sofas and mood lighting of one of Beirut’s hippest bars, Ram shook with fear as he relived his ordeal. He turned his large green eyes from me to the translator and then back to me again, speaking in a low voice, even though we were the only people in the room.
"I think I was targeted for two reasons: because I’m a Druze, and because I’m gay," he said. "They told us, ‘You are all perverts, and we are going to kill you to save the world.’"
Ram’s nightmare, which unfolded on a hot summer’s afternoon in Damascus, forced the then 19-year-old to flee his home for Beirut, with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Even in Damascus, the stronghold of Assad’s regime—where the elite still dance and drink cocktails in exclusive nightclubs—society has broken down into a chaotic quagmire where criminal gangs operate with impunity and radical Islamist groups are strengthening their stranglehold.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before Ram was picked out as a target. He is a Druze—a member of the small religious group that makes up just three percent of the Syrian population—and comes from a wealthy family well known for supporting Assad’s regime. From the beginning of the revolution he had known that these things could put him at risk. But his homosexuality was always a secret between him and his gay friends; he never thought that it could finally force him to flee.
"I got a phone call from my friend," he recalled. "He asked me to come over to his house because he’d lost all his money and he needed my help. I could never refuse him anything, so I went there straight away."
But Ram had walked into a trap.
Mexican Drug Cartels Love Social Media
Above: “Broly”, an alleged member of the Knights Templar Cartel, posing for a selfie with his handgun. (All images courtesy of Antoine Nouvet / Open Empowerment Initiative.)
Members of Mexico’s drug cartels are really starting to harness the power of the internet, using it to run positive PR campaigns, post selfies with their pistols, and hunt down targets by tracking their movements on social media.
Antoine Nouvet from the SecDev Foundation, a Canadian research organization, has been working with drug policy think-tank the Igarapé Institute on a project called the Open Empowerment Initiative. The project looks into “how cyberspace is empowering individuals and rewiring relations in Latin America” and has uncovered a wealth of information about how cartels are using the internet to their own nefarious ends.
Some gold weapons posted on a cartel member’s Facebook page.
The first point Antoine touched on was how cartels have utilized cyberspace in much the same way as a TV company’s PR department might: “They advertise their activities, they conduct public relations initiatives, and they have basically turned themselves into their own media company,” he explained. “Colombia’s cartel groups or drug traffickers in Myanmar in the 1990s were very sophisticated at public relations, but they didn’t have this massive broadcasting platform.”
The Boxer, the Murder, the Fall from Grace
The argument started over gas money. It escalated to the point where a man got shot in the testicles. And it finished with one of the participants murdered and the other—a professional boxer with 20 victories to his name—in prison.
The dead man’s name was Raul Bennett Sambola, and I’ll get to him, but it was the boxer’s involvement that made the argument and its aftermath famous up and down Nicaragua’s poverty-stricken Atlantic coast. Evans Quinn was a 28-year-old heavyweight at the time of the February 2012 murder; just nine months earlier he had been in Nevada fighting Seth Mitchell. That bout ended with Quinn getting knocked out in the first round, after which he returned to his hometown of Bluefields. But before that humiliation, before he got involved in a feud, killed Sambola, went on the run, and was finally thrown in prison, Quinn was already a local legend, beloved by the people of Bluefields because he was one of them. As he came up through the boxing ranks, they imagined he’d make it to the top and show the world that the people in this poor but lively region are fighters and winners.
“God gave Evans Quinn the ability to rise up the people of Bluefields,” a local pastor told me. “But he threw it away.”
It’s hard to describe Quinn without using words like “potential” and “ability.” He was charismatic as hell, handsome, successful, and able to make whoever he talked to feel like he was the most important person in the world. He claimed to have seven wives (“I’m Muslim,” he told me) and surrounded himself with friends, drugs, women, and guns. But he could also be dangerous—if you crossed him, he wasn’t afraid to use his immense physical talents to show you who was boss. Like when he punched that pastor’s son in the mouth just because the kid was at a nightclub with a girl Quinn thought would be better off with him.
“He was crazy, but he could have done great things,” the pastor said. That’s how eager many in Bluefields were to look the other way when Quinn did something most people would be hated for. That was the influence the boxer had once had here. Today Quinn is still a legend, but now that he’s in prison, his glory days long burned away to ash, his story is now one about wasted potential, or a cautionary tale about what happens when a man takes justice into his own hands. If you’re willing to forgive his excesses and his ugly violent streak, he could even be a folk hero who got thrown in prison by cops with a grudge against him.
Stepping Lightly in Afghanistan’s Soviet Tank Graveyard
“The Afghans have a saying,” said Captain Vosnos, swinging the muzzle of his rifle in a wide arc, “that after God created the Earth, he had bunch of rocks and sand left over, so he made Afghanistan.” That described the Kabul Military Training Center grounds perfectly. I had first arrived at the facility earlier in the week to see Afghanistan’s finest military cadets execute elegant ambushes, neutralize IEDs, and blast paper targets with machine guns under the rude sun. The background to these exercises, quite appropriately, was the expansive plain we were now standing on—a brown landscape strewn with decaying tanks and equipment abandoned by the Soviets back in 1989 at the end of their decade-long failed invasion.
I had come here to photograph the rusted mountain of Soviet military hardware lurking on the center’s grounds, but before I even got out my camera, we had to get rid of the dogs who hang around the wreckage in ragged packs, which is what Vosnos was here for.
“I’ve got 30 rounds in my M-4 and 15 in my Baretta,” he said. “So we can handle 45 dogs, but the 46th is gonna be a bitch.” The dog pack in front of us, hearing this, began to growl even louder. Most of them, I had been told, are rabid—and the canine carcasses littering the area attested to that.