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Syria civil war: Video claims L.A. gang members are fighting for Assad

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 7:54 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
Two men claiming to be Los Angeles-area gang members have posted a video showing them firing rifles in Syria's civil war, apparently fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Two men claiming to be Los Angeles-area gang members have posted a video showing them firing rifles in Syria's civil war, apparently fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One gang member is "Wino," or Nerses Kilajyan, of Westide Armenian Power gang
  • Another is "Creeper" of Sun Valley GW-13 gang, he says in video
  • FBI is investigating the video "to determine any potential threat"
  • "This is very unique because these guys are ... with the pro-Syria forces," analyst says

(CNN) -- Two men claiming to be Los Angeles-area gang members have posted a video showing them firing rifles in Syria's civil war, apparently fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

In the profanity-laced video, the two men fire rifles from behind a cinder-block wall at "enemigos" -- enemies -- though the camera never shows an enemy in the distance. The two men often refer to "gang-banging" and their "homies," and one of them displays gang hand gestures and tattoos.

The video was publicized this week by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based organization that studies and translates news accounts and social-media postings.

"This is very unique because these guys are over there, and they are with the pro-Syria forces and pro-Hezbollah forces," said Steven Stalinksy, executive director of the institute. "We have been monitoring foreign fighters over the years, and there has been a handful of Americans going to fight, but they have been going to fight against Assad."

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The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces is investigating the video.

"The JTTF is aware of the video and is investigating to determine any potential threat to Americans or to U.S. interests," FBI spokeswoman Ari Dekofsky said in a statement. "We are not in a position to provide further comment at this time."

The ties to the al-Assad regime apparently stem from how one of the two gang members identifies himself as "Wino" from the Westside Armenian Power gang. Some Armenians side with Assad because he has protected the minority group in Syria.

Wino uploaded the video and photographs to his Facebook page, where he is identified as "Wino Ayee Peeyakan" and by his real name, Nerses Kilajyan, according to MEMRI. The video was also posted to YouTube.

Although media accounts and MEMRI explained that Kilajyan's Facebook page contained several photos and comments earlier this week, his page was taken down as of Wednesday.

MEMRI's website, however, has reposted Kilajyan's photographs showing him wearing Hezbollah garb and standing by a purported Hezbollah operative, MEMRI said. The pro-Iran Shiite militant group Hezbollah has fought on the regime's side of Syria's three-year civil war. Hezbollah is deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

Kilajyan is also photographed standing beside the man who also appears in the Syrian video, MEMRI said.

That man in the video calls himself "Creeper" and says he's a member of the Sun Valley GW-13 gang. In the slang of a Latino gang-banger, Creeper often sprinkles his fluent English with Spanish words.

"Judging by the photos, Wino seems to have been fighting in Syria since December 2012. Comments by Wino's Facebook friends suggest that the two were deported from the U.S. due to their involvement in criminal activity," MEMRI's website says.

In the two videos, the two men appear to be addressing gang members back in the Los Angeles area while they fire their rifles.

Creeper: "We're in Syria still gang-banging." Later he adds: "Tell the homies: in the ... Middle East, still gang-banging."

Wino: "We're in Syria, homie. We're in Syria, homie. ... We're on the ... front line."

In the video, Creeper cites rappers Mr. Capone-E, Mr. Criminal and Crazy Loco, but those rappers distanced themselves from the video.

"I've spoken to both Mr. Criminal and Crazy Loco, and none of us have any associations whatsoever with the two men in the video," the rapper Mr. Capone-E said in a statement. " I've been very blessed to have the most amazing fans from all walks of life and with all kinds of political views. I personally do not condone any type of violence or any type of action that leads to criminality.

"I'm by no means a political person and will not be speaking on the subject of Syria, on which I'm wholly uninformed," the rapper said.

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CNN's Linda Hall and Kyung Lah contributed to this report.

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