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.
When Asalah, her daughter, and her son fled the war and left their home, Damascus for Iraq, they found themselves on the Syrian side of a closed border. Two months later, when the border opened on August 19, Asalah, her children, and 55,000 other refugeeshopped onto buses and trucks and entered Iraq’s Kurdistan region. They and another 30,000 refugees camped out wherever they could: parks, mosques, and even schools. By the time UNHCR arrived a week later, they hadn’t eaten in 36 hours and disease had spread among the refugees.
Asalah didn’t have a say in where she and her family could go in Iraq but technically lucked out when they were randomly assigned to Arbat camp by the Kurdistan government. Arbat camp is a transit refugee camp established by UNHCR located in the Sulaymaniyahprovince about six hours from the border Syrian-Iraq border. Arbat houses a small number of the refugees currently in Iraq—with only a 1000 refugees living in 500 tents compared to the Za’atari mega camp in Jordan that houses 130,000 refugees. The refugees were told they would temporarily stay in the transit camp for a few days while another, more accommodating camp was built. They’ve been there for almost two months.
Hackers Blackmailed a Detroit Teenager into Pawning His Mother’s Jewelry
Hector Hernandez is a seemingly average seventeen-year-old kid in Detroit. Earlier this week, he stole and pawned his family’s jewels so he could wire money to internet blackmailers in the Philippines. He did this because they had threatened to publicize webcam video they had managed to get of him by hacking his webcam.
According to reports, this scam is becoming increasingly common. Hackers trick someone into installing a remote access application, switch on their webcam when they’re doing something “indiscreet,” then Facebook message them a copy of the video, and threaten to show it to their parents/significant other/boss/whomever the person in the video would least like to see it. In short, it’s a crime of that type of psychopathic genius I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
In the case of Hector Hernandez, the scheme paid off to the tune of $1,700 in three installments, money he was able to get his hands on by pawning $100,000 worth of jewelry he stole from his family (which doesn’t seem like a very good deal.) The scammers probably used a trojan horse to install the remote access tool or “RAT virus”, as they’re calling it on TV news, on Hector’s computer.
Chinese Teenagers Are Obsessed with Justin Bieber, Too
Right now, Justin Bieber is in the middle of the Asian segment of his “Believe” world tour. As well as playing some arena shows, he marked the occasion by making his groupies carry him up the Great Wall Of China and skateboarding around Beijing, as his own sweating bodyguards followed him. Unwilling to miss such a significant meeting of Western cultural imperialism and Eastern screaming teenagers, I headed over to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the Pudong district of Shanghai to meet the local Beliebers.
Chinese people seem to be masters of the cult of personality and love famous people even more than the rest of us. When David Beckham was in Shanghai in June, for example, there was an actual stampede in his press conference and seven people were hospitalized. When was the last time YOU cared enough about a stranger to get covered in your own blood for them? If they were killing each other over a retired midfielder from England, what would they do for the most famous kid on Earth?
The first people I met were Crystal (left) and Amy. As Crystal booted up her battery-powered “Belieber” sign, Amy told me that she likes Justin because, “he has a dream”. However, she also warned me that, “You don’t have to like everything about someone – I don’t like his tattoos and he was a bit lazy on The Great Wall.”
Unlike many of her western counterparts, Amy never wanted Selena Gomez—Justin’s ex—to disappear. “I like her music,” she explained. “And anyway, Justin would not fall in love with me, he’s 19.” Amy has got her head screwed on straight. When she chased me across the street five minutes later and begged me to get Justin’s autograph for her, I wished I could help her.
The Disabled Englishman Who’s Opened His Home to Teenage Drug Dealers
Recent cuts in government funding have made it increasingly hard for Britain’s disabled population to get by, with many of those with psychiatric or physical problems often struggling to escape the confines of their own homes. Often they have to rely on their friends and familes, who unfortunately might not be available to help.
One victim of the Conservatives’ plan to cut Britain’s debt is Barry, a 60-year-old from Watford who spent his early childhood in care and was diagnosed as manic depressive as a teenager. His vulnerable mental state eventually led to alcoholism and addiction, and—after the death of his child—residential psychiatric care. Finally, he wound up in prison. For the past ten years, Barry has been suffering from a degenerative muscle condition that has left him mostly housebound, and his condition has only worsened since the cuts have set it.
Barry’s existence is far from solitary, however—almost every night of the week he’s joined by a bunch of local teenage boys. Since the 1990s, his apartment has become a venue for their gatherings, each generation passing through before leaving it for the next. In the 90s, Barry allowed the kids to hang out because he enjoyed their company, providing for them a place where they could hang out and get high away from their parents’ homes; later, in the 2000s, as Barry’s personal and financial situation worsened, he started to allow them to store and deal drugs out of his apartment. He hoped that they would contribute to some of his bills with the money they made.
In the second episode of our new Big Night Outseries, Clive Martin ventures into the little-understood world of psytrance. After coming across a forest rave deep in the English countryside, he finds himself amongst swinging dreadlocks, “poi artists,” evil clowns, inexplicably poshMade in Chelseaextras, and a scrotum-headed demon.
Libya Is Getting Better and Better for Teenage Arms Dealer
The gun sellers on Tripoli’s Al Rashid Street are doing a brisk trade. They’re chatting and laughing and all look like they’re about 17 years old. Younger boys are playing near the stalls, some of them riding BMXs and weaving in and out of the tables that comprise the weapons section of the Libyan capital’s central marketplace.
Most of the guns on sale here look badly made, but at least they’re dirt cheap. A trader wearing a baseball cap and gold chain introduces himself to me as Hamid and hands me a pistol. Hamid says the gun is from Turkey and he can do me a special deal, for the “business price” of 160 dinars (just over $125).
Six months ago the stalls here were laden with fireworks, as the city saw euphoric celebrations marking the two-year anniversary of the revolution. Libyans were overflowing with optimism and enthusiastically talking of the progress their country had made since Muammar Gaddafi was deposed, captured, and killed. But since then progress has stalled and the euphoria has disappeared. Many of the locally organized militias that helped to oust Gaddafi refused to disarm, preferring to stay strapped and cast themselves in the role of “guardians of the revolution.” Broadly speaking, the country remains split in two. On one side are the relatively liberal federalists from the north-western city of Zintan and their pals from the oil-rich Eastern province of Cyrenaica. On the other are the strutting Spartans of the war-ravaged city of Misrata and their allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, who are currently trying and failing to lead a central Libyan government in Tripoli.
For a skateboarder growing up on the East Coast in the 80s and 90s, Huntington Beach seemed like ground zero. Christian Hosoi, the most stylish skater of all time lived there; Jason Lee, one of the biggest early innovators in street skating was there; even my favorite skater of all time, New Jersey’s Mike Vallely moved there and teamed up with fellow street legend Ed Templeton. And when the Flip team flew over from England with Geoff Rowley and Tom Penny, who would quickly take their places in the vanguard of new street rippers, I couldn’t help but believe that Huntington Beach was the greatest place on Earth.
Then I visited when I turned 18 and it was like Hitler won the war. Blonde and blue-eyed was the norm. Not one person of color to be seen anywhere. Nazi regalia was sold in Army/Navy stores alongside Dickies and bayonets. Then I started hearing stories of teenage skinheads lynching black people like it was Alabama in the 50s. One of skateboarding’s kindest, gentlest souls and my childhood idol, Ray Barbee, was chased by a rabid pack of skinheads and barely escaped with his life. Not trying to sound racist, but I hate white people. In the immortal words of Huntington Beach’s local pro skater Jason Dill, “I don’t want to be white as much as you don’t want to be white.” I vowed that day never to return to Huntington Beach.
This past weekend, nearly 20 years to the day, I found myself in Huntington for the US Open of Surf, which played host to the Van Doren Invitational Bowl contest, the preeminent skateboard bowl contest of our time. The neo-Nazi sentiment was still there, just a bit more subdued (I saw one yoked out, shirtless skinhead in the stands with a 10-inch snowflake on his chest, a poor attempt to cover up the Swazi over his heart). Of the daily 100,000 contest visitors I saw, all but two were blonde and blue-eyed, and neither of them were black. The only real noticeable change was that the scantily-clad girls I recall from two decades before hadn’t aged. In fact, they’d regressed to pre-pubescence and their bikinis had regressed with them. A man’s natural reaction is, “Hey! Wow! Tits! All right!” but once I realized very few kids were of age I began to get sick to my stomach.
I was working on a video project while in Huntington Beach, and when I began to search for boys and girls who were over the age of 18 I found it nearly impossible. Even the ones with very adult messages written on their bodies like “US Open your legs,” “free blow jobs,” “stick it here” (pointing to their ass), “rape me,” “free rim jobs,” etc., etc. told me they were only 15 or 16 (and I’m quite certain they were lying about their age). For the next four days I kept my head down and looked at the sand as if they were all Medusas. I’ve felt less creepy while on gang bang sets.
Naturally nine days of whipping children into a sexual frenzy could only end one way: a good old-fashion riot.
Luckily, I was long gone before the cops showed up. But Ed Templeton, skateboarding’s most prolific artist and Huntington Beach’s hometown hero/advocate was there capturing the entire week’s festivities. I rang him up to get his take on the HB scene.
VICE: What was Huntington Beach like when you were growing up? Ed: Downtown was surf shops, bars, and food. Quaint one- or two-story buildings. The locals ruled the place, and there were fights all the time. Skinheads hung out on one corner and said racist shit to everyone. Religious zealots would preach that we are all sinners. In many ways not much has changed.
How has it changed over the years? Now it’s Starbucks and Jamba Juice, microbreweries, and ice cream shops. There are still surf shops, but they are bigger and more corporate. The skeleton of the past is still there, but Main Street is bigger, louder, and more geared towards tourists. The skinheads have stopped hanging out on the corner—they are all grown up and breeding families. A few racist kids still hang out down there, but they’re more stealth about it. Fights happen at night now when the meatheads who all think they are MMA fighters get their liquid courage to the right level.
You mentioned that racist element—I remember Clyde Singleton getting chased by skinheads with bottles, and Ray Barbee being as well on a seperate occassion. More recently, I saw a lot of Swazi tattoos this weekend. Why has that sentiment been so big in HB? Orange County has the highest concentration of Nazi skinheads outside of Cologne, Germany. I’m not sure how old that fun fact is. But the gangs were here; there are remnants of it. Just today Deanna shot a photo of a guy with a white power tattoo on his chest walking shirtless down Main Street. It’s out there. The Ray Barbee story is the worst. I remember Jamie Hart and his friends beating up skinheads when I was younger. I see the Swazi tats, but those fucktards and their way of thinking is on the way out. Or so I like to think.
You and Deanna are both born and raised in Huntington, but I always felt you outgrew it. Why stay? Deanna was born here in HB; I was born in Garden Grove—still the OC. I started skating in HB, and that’s where my life began. At the moment when I would have normally said, “Lets get the fuck outta here!” I was doing Toy Machine, and it was before the internet got so fast. I still had to Fed-Ex zip drives down to the magazines with Toy ads, and drive down often to arrange graphic stuff. I felt tied to being at least within driving distance from where Toy Machine was being made, which is San Diego. So the company kept me from moving. Now with the speed of the interwebs I could live anywhere, but again, when you get older you gain more perspective. And after traveling the world, which I continue to do, I realize that everyone in the world would kill to live where I do. It’s paradise. Yeah there are douchbags, but there are douchebags everywhere. The weather is perfect, the beach is close, LA is a short drive away with all of its culture and art, but I’m not in the middle of that. I’m here in a quiet suburbia where I can drop out and get work done.
Whenever a new social media platform becomes popular, the VICE Tumblr Team is frequently asked about our strategy for said platform. "How are you activating pix.fux?" "What are you doing on coolz-E?" Generally, our answer is “nothing,” because most social media sites are stupid and everyone forgets about them in like a month and it’s always easier (and often wiser) to just do nothing. But every once in a while one sticks and we’re obliged to create an account. And so, we’re proud to announce that we’ve finally decided upon our Snapchat strategy.
We’ve created an account, username: vicemag, and we want you to send us pictures. We will look at them, and if we like them we’ll take a screenshot. (Yes, we know that screenshotting Snapchats goes against the medium, but the VICE Tumblr Team hails from So-Cal, the DGAF capital of the world.) Then, assuming we’re sent cool photos, we’ll post a weekly round-up of our favorites on this here Tumblr. We won’t use your names. Also, we might send you some photos of our own. Cool?