Transformers: Motorcycle Gangs and Extremism

Today, we here at Foreign Intrigue are very pleased to present an exceptional article by Alexandra Jones on extremism and motorcycle gangs. Alexandra has been a strategic crime analyst with the police in The Hague, The Netherlands for the past eight years. Her main interest is in criminal street gangs, network analysis, and threat assessments. She has worked organized crime, homicide, and political extremism.

Below is her article, “Transformers: Motorcycle Gangs and Extremism’.

Eric Jones
Editor in Chief
Foreign Intrigue

 

The past decade Europe has seen an explosive growth in the number of  motorcycle gangs (MCs), many of which are listed as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs[1] (OMGs), sometimes referred to as ‘One Percenters’. The One Percenters are more narrowly defined by ATF as (among other things) any group of motorcyclists whose activities bring them and their club into repeated and serious conflict with society and the law. These definitions assume that such clubs are bands of motorcyclists. In Europe, this is often no longer the case. They are at best hybrid gangs, and often – like the Black Jackets MC – glorified streetgangs that are cloaked in the colours of an MC, because the MC is a proven succesful businessmodel.

 

It’s all about the money –

The FBI defines OMGs as organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises. The purpose of an enterprise is to make money, and any company set up with an eye to maximizing profits and minimizing risks will seek an organizational model so as best to enable and support its aims. The OMG offers bands of criminals a successful business model that will do just that outside and sometimes inside of regular societal frameworks for conducting business.

 

Or is it?

Where the rapid expansion of the motorcycle gangs is in itself cause for concern, the situation has been aggravated by the emergence of gangs that either had a political agenda from the start or that have become politically sensitized. Consisting mainly of young men from ethnic minorities and socially marginalized groups such as travellers, these MC-look-a-likes have evolved from goon squads into serious transnational criminal networks.

In Global Cities – Global Gangs, John Hagedorn states that gangs have become institutionalized in social environments, are globalized and can be found in increasingly globalized urban spaces. Crucially in the context of the developments in the European MC-scene, according to Hagedorn, gangs are ‘social actors’ whose identies are formed by (perceived) identity-based repression, participation in the underground economy, and constructions of gender[2]. Where the goon squads were basically first generation streetgangs – and some OMG puppet clubs still are – the new MCs are at least second generation gangs, and some of them have grown into third generation ganghood. The issue with these new style European MCs is that some of those which may still be characterized as second generation gangs, have a political edge to them. Such motorcycle gangs transform into true outlaw motorcyclegangs: gangs that incorporate resistance to mainstream society and become social actors outside society’s legal framework.

Although the rapid expansion of MCs is seen throughout Europe, the expansion in Eastern Europe appears to differ from the situation in North-Western Europe (mainly The Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia, especially Denmark). The MC-look-alikes in the North-West, an area that could also be described as the Meuse-Rhine-Elbe delta, stand out from their surroundings in that they are composed of young men who are ethnically and often religiously different from mainstream society. This appears not to be the case in Eastern Europe simply because there aren’t nearly as many immigrants there, and none of the Eastern European countries has a colonial past. To the best of my knowledge Southern Europe doesn’t suffer from such an increase in motorcycle gang activity. It is true that a number of MC chapters have been established in Spain in the past decade, but these seem to have been predominantly established and ‘staffed’ by MCs from e.g. Germany and The Netherlands.

Gangs that are exemplary for this new breed of not-really-MCs: Dutch Satudarah MC with its core of  Moluccans, the three Dutch MCs that unite travellers and Romani, the Kurdish Median Empire MC, the Black Jackets MC and the Kamikaze Riders MC. At least two, and possibly three of these MCs can be linked to terrorist groups: the Kamikaze Riders MC in Belgium are closely associated with jihadists currently active in Syria and Iraq, one of the Dutch travellers MCs has an interesting association with Northern Ireland (Ulster), and with some considerable caution Median Empire MC in Germany might be linked to the Kurdish PKK[3]. All the OMGs mentioned above are very present on the internet, especially on YouTube.

 

Where angels fear to tread

The very notion of gang is treacherous terrain, an academic minefield subject to political and police opportunism, discussion of which is beyond the scope of this post. In Europe there lies a conceptual no man’s land between Thrasher’s traditional ‘wild peer group’ of unruly adolescents and the officially labelled ‘organized crime group’ (OCG) consisting of adult males whose joint criminal activities are structured, persistent and mainly driven by prospects of financial gain. The outlaw motorcycle gangs are commonly analysed and tackled as if they were like most OCGs, i.e. exclusively economic enterprises. The new OMGs, however, combine the economic ambitions of the organized crime groups with the drive for territory of the streetgangs and the quest for identity of the adolescent peer groups. They become socio-political actors.

The nexus between organized crime and terrorism isn’t a new phenomenon; Sullivan and Elkus have explored the matter extensively in Global cities – global gangs, and Red  Teaming Criminal Insurgency (2009). This post will explore relations between some of the most notable new OMGs and terrorism.

No Surrender MC. The travellers community in The Netherlands has spawned three major OMGs in the past five years, one of which is No Surrender MC. It has quickly become an MC of mixed ethnic and social composition. One of its chapters is in The Hague. Last year the website of this particular chapter had its home page showing its own logo next to the symbol and colours of the local football club and interestingly, a graffiti style red fist adjacent to the text: Loyalists/ still/ under siege/ NO SURRENDER.

loyalists

This is a clear reference to the outlawed Red Hand Defenders, a loyalist (i.e. protestants loyal to the United Kingdom) paramilitary group that is now officially classified as a terrorist group and as such has been banned. The RDH rejects the Good Friday Agreement and is held responsible for multiple killings. It is unclear why an OMG chapter from The Hague would associate itself with the RDH or flag its affinity with it. The website no longer shows this particular picture.

Median Empire MC, Germany. A number of years ago leading members of a notorious Kurdish crime family in Germany established several chapters of Mongols MC Germany after they had been turned down by the Hells Angels. A young Kurd called ‘Erhan’ or ‘Azad’, originally from Iran, joined the Kurdish Mongols MC in Germany but found them very much lacking in the brotherhood they so advertised. So he founded his own Kurdish MC, Median Empire MC. The name Median Empire refers to the ancient empire that occupied the lands many Kurds consider ancestral Kurdish territory and which they strive to unite once more into a Kurdish homeland. One of the support clubs is called ‘The Immortals’, referring to the elite soldiers of the kings of Persia. One of the clips posted on YouTube shows the frontman abroad, apparently in Kurdistan. He is armed with an AK-47.  In an interview with the respectable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2012 headman ‘Azad’ isn’t shy about the nature of Median Empire MC.  In spite of being called an MC, they do not ride bikes. He says that if they just were to ride around on bikes wearing cuts and colours, they would be a ‘carnival society’ (Karnevalsverein). ‘Azad’ also says that he ‘used to be’ an active member of the PKK, the outlawed Kurdish organization classified as a terrorist organization. The PKK and its affiliates are well known for the sophistication of their organization. They are a pervasive presence in Kurdish communities in Europe. Extortion and protection are important sources of revenue for the PKK as well as for OMGs. It is doubtful whether a young man once in the PKK, could successfully leave the organization and establish his own gang which in some fields would compete with the PKK.

Compete with PKK

 

In Antwerp and Brussels young men and boys of often Moroccan descent have ganged up together in a small MC which they call Kamikaze Riders MC. The name of which refers both to their reckless bike riding and to the Japanese suicide pilots of WW2. In this case the word ‘streetgang’ is probably too strong; the group as an MC doesn’t seem particularly evolved but  motorcycles actually do feature: Japanese motorcycles of course, not American ones. The bikers engage in streetraces. The MC was begun by Said Saouti, a Salafist preacher who names Anwar Al Awlaki, among others, as his teacher. Saouti teamed up with a good friend of his, Abdelouafi Elouassaki to found Kamikaze Riders MC. Abdelouafi, who died in a motorcycle accident in May 2013, had two brothers. Those two brothers, Houssien and Hakim, were both suspected of being involved with terrorist activities. Houssien was apparently planning to commit a terrorist attack in Brussels. Hakim and Houssien went to Syria to join the fight, in the course of which Houssien was killed and Hakim was grievously wounded. Houssien Elouassaki was also one of the frontmen of Sharia4Belgium, an extremist muslim organization which was disbanded in October 2012. Other members of Kamikaz Riders MC on Facebook openly support jihad. Founding father Said Saouti can be found on social media as Said Deltabox III, or Said Kamikaze or Kawaz:

or kawaz

Kamikaze Riders MC, Belgium.

Belgian websites dedicated to monitoring links between Belgian jihadists and the war in Syria[4] have no qualms about the nature of the Kamikaze Riders MC: they call the gang a dangerous jihadist motorcyclegang. Said Saouti may be a preacher, he is also a felon convicted for burglary and fire arms offences.

Conclusion: Leaders of  radicalized muslims and leaders of gangs in European cities are fishing for the same fish in the same ponds. They groom alienated boys and young men, generally from marginalized communities such as ethnic or religious minorities, who are looking for pride, fulfillment of a particular sort of masculinity and generally somewhere to belong. Especially vulnerable are those who are (considered) social failures, with a propensity to violence and no allegiance to mainstream society. Those gangs that succeed in combining the successful organizational model of the outlaw motorcycle gang with a cultural narrative, create a robust and flexible framework through which to do business, which may not always be financial, viz the Kamikaze Riders. The diaspora of a great array of peoples through Europe’s cities lends these gangs an easy reach outwards to fellow communities elsewhere while at the same time importing into these cities the conflicts from their homelands. These new MCs are organized on the basis of a shared heritage and a shared rejection of the society that surrounds them. As it is the nature of streetgangs and jihadists to strive for control over territory, they look to control not just hearts and minds but actual neighbourhoods on which they will impose their own rules and where they can stave off fiscal and judicial intervention.

judicial intervention

Badge of The Immortals – 135 support crew (of Median Empire MC)

not a motorcycle in sight

Median Empire MC, probably chapter Dark City (= Cologne, Germany). Not a motorcycle in sight.

fb not a motorcycle

Screenshot of Facebook page Said Deltabox, ‘heeft gewerkt bij Cheikh Anwar Al Awlaki’ means ‘has worked for etc.’. ‘Gestudeerd aan Al Haq vs Al Batil’ means ‘studied at Al Haq etc’.

al haq etc

Pic left shows Said Saouti and Abdullah Azzam, the godfather of Jihad. Azzam was an associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden.

 

Said saouti

Current Facebook page of Said Saouti, his photograph and ISIS flag enlarged.

[1]For the sake of brevity, no distinction is made between OMGs, One Percenter OMGs and their puppet clubs

[2] John M. Hagedorn (ed.) (2007). Gangs in the Global City. Alternatives to Traditional Criminology.  Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois  Press.

[3]All information in this post is OSINT.

[4]http://mediawerkgroepsyrie.wordpress.com and http://emmejihad.wordpress.com

 

Real AJ

Alexandra Jones

 

Alexandra Jones has been a strategic crime analyst with the police in The Hague, The Netherlands for the past eight years. Her main interest is in criminal street gangs, network analysis, and threat assessments. Currently mainly charged with research and development assignments, she has also worked organized crime, homicide, and political extremism. 

Comments

  1. […] was described last year, in an article on the phenomenon of radical biker gangs by a Dutch police specialist, as having both a criminal past in burglary and arms offences and also […]

  2. […] Another of the group’s founders, Said Saouti, is a Salafist preacher with firearms and burglary convictions who lists al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki as a friend, crime expert Alexandra Jones writes. […]

  3. […] Another of the group’s founders, Said Saouti, is a Salafist preacher with firearms and burglary convictions who lists al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki as a friend, crime expert Alexandra Jones writes. […]

  4. […] Another of the group’s founders, Said Saouti, is a Salafist preacher with firearms and burglary convictions who lists al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki as a friend, crime expert Alexandra Jones writes. […]

  5. […] Another of the group’s founders, Said Saouti, is a Salafist preacher with firearms and burglary convictions who lists al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki as a friend, crime expert Alexandra Jones writes. […]