Two L.A. gang members fighting for al-Assad in video are deported Syrians

Story highlights

  • Police: Two claiming to be L.A. gang members in a Syria war video had criminal records
  • They were of Armenian descent and were deported back to Syria, records show
  • A minority in Syria, some Armenians have sided with Bashar al-Assad
  • Officials: Nercis Kilajian was deported in 2012; Sarou Madarian was deported in 2010
U.S. authorities have learned more about two Los Angeles-area men claiming in a video to be gang members fighting in Syria: It turns out they are Syrian nationals of Armenian descent who were deported back to that country because of their criminal history.
One of the men is Nercis Kilajian, whom U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported to Syria in 2012, according to local and federal records provided by Sgt. Tom Lorenz of the Glendale Police Department.
The spelling of that name in the police records is different from a Nerses Kilajyan that a Middle East news research group found on his Facebook page, but phonetically, it is similar.
The other man in the video is Sarou Madarian, who was deported to Syria in 2010, Lorenz said Thursday.
In the video, Madarian identifies himself only as "Creeper" of the Sun Valley GW-13 gang and leaves the false impression that he's a Latino gang member because he sprinkles Spanish words in his fluent English.
Lorenz said Madarian is a member of the Grumpy Winos gang from Sun Valley.
Their YouTube video showed them firing rifles in Syria's civil war, apparently fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Some Armenians side with al-Assad because he has protected the minority group in Syria.
Never do the two men face return fire in the video, however.
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 Madarian 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 Stalinsky, 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."
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."
In the video, Kilajian identifies himself in the video as "Wino" from the Westside Armenian Power gang. 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.