Two members of notorious Los Angeles street gangs have apparently made a global trek -- from the crowded streets of LA to the barren battlefields of Syria -- to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The men -- who identify themselves on a 2-minute video clip as “Wino” from the Westside Armenian Power gang and “Creeper” of the Surenos, a group with apparent ties to the Mexican Mafia -- are seen in a war-torn, desolate area as they spot the “enemigos” a short distance away before firing in their direction.
“Still puro Surenos putting it down, homie,” Creeper tells the cameraman. “In Middle East, homie, in Syria, still gangbanging, not giving a ----, homie.”
Creeper then proudly displays his gang tattoos before referencing fellow Surenos Capone-E, Mr. Criminal from Silver Lake — a nod to the central Los Angeles neighborhood — and Crazy Loco from Pasadena, Calif.
"It seems as authentic as it gets."
- Rafael Green, Middle East Media Research Institute
“We still got love for all you homies, all the Surenos,” Creeper continues. “All you vatos.”
The men, both of whom are clad in military garb, then awkwardly fire machine guns into the countryside.
“That’s for all the Surenos, homie not giving a ----,” Creeper continues. “That’s right, I’m gangbanging, homie.”
The men said they’re part of the “front line” in Syria, although they do not explicitly reveal their objectives or why they’re fighting for Assad. The Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors press reports in the region, said it identified Wino as Nerses Kilajyan, who, according to his Facebook profile, has apparently been in Syria since December 2012.
Kilajyam’s Facebook page includes pictures of him in military fatigues, including Hezbollah regalia. He’s also seen in photographs with the man who identifies himself as Creeper and in others with members of the Shiite Hezbollah militia. One researcher at the Middle East Media Research Institute told FoxNews.com there’s no reason to doubt the clip’s veracity.
“I’m pretty sure that they’re in Syria; I have no reason to believe they’re lying,” MEMRI researcher Rafael Green told FoxNews.com. “The pictures show [Wino] with guns and grenades and he’s even photographed in the Hezbollah uniform. It seems as authentic as it gets.”
It’s unclear whether the men are American citizens, but Green said it’s unlikely that’s the case. Wino’s relatives may have some ties to Syria, or the two men may be among the number of Arabs, Europeans and Sunni Muslims who have flooded Syria to join radical Islamist groups. Thus far, no reports have been confirmed of Americans volunteering to fight in Syria on behalf of Assad, although at least 50 U.S. citizens are believed to have traveled there to join the rebels, according to congressional testimony this month from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“I was pretty amazed,” Green said of the video. “The association between gang members in the U.S. and militants in the Middle East … There’s no obvious connection to them. What would bring these guys to a war that’s not theirs?”
While money is most likely the answer, Green said the men, particularly Wino, may share common beliefs with Assad and his legion of mercenaries.
“He seems to be anti-American and pro-Assad,” Green said, referencing his Facebook post criticizing President Obama. “He probably sees Obama as an enemy, accusing him rightfully or wrongfully of arming the rebels.”
Green said the men are likely being paid well for their services, but noted that neither appear to be very comfortable with their rifles.
“They might be there as cannon fodder, or it’s possible they might be on drugs, frankly,” he said. “These guys are exceptions in this case.”
Asked if their time running with gangs in Los Angeles has adequately prepared them for fighting in Syria, Green replied: “Maybe in the sense that there’s clear-cut distinction between groups, although I think the level of animosity in Syria, which is sectarian and a fight to the death, may be more extreme than it is in Los Angeles.”
A message seeking comment from U.S. State Department officials was not immediately returned early Monday.