This weekend, we're bringing you a timely gem from the Ozy Archives. Take a deep dive into a longform piece that our writers have hand-picked for you based on this week's news.
Jan 01, 2022
Like superheroes, supervillains also love their toys. Criminals choose their preferred tools for their utility, symbolism and even brand-building potential, which means they too embrace consumerism — despite claims of a higher calling.
Very often, brands, through no fault of their own, get pushed onto the defensive because of an unfortunate association with militants. Fans of the now-defunct Boston rock band Isis, for example, stopped wearing its merchandise for fear of being labeled as supporters of the infamous militant group of the same name.
In today’s Best of OZY, we explore some of the items that jihadists are commonly associated with, from ordinary phones to distinct watches and more.
1 - AK-47
Since its emergence in the Soviet Union in the 1940s, the Kalashnikov’s rise to prominence in terrorist circles in Europe has been well-documented. But the AK-47, the most popular of the over 200 models of AK assault rifles, is also regularly exported into crisis hot spots in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. And it is loved by individuals on both sides of the law. Thanks to the rise of anti-Western sentiment during and after the Cold War, terrorists turned to the Russians for weapons supplies.
2 - Telegram
The instant messaging app, which claims to be more secure than its rival WhatsApp, is favored by groups like the Islamic State and right-wing extremists in America who disseminate propaganda using the encrypted service. In 2017, Pavel Durov, Telegram’s Russian founder, was forced to reach an agreement with Moscow about information sharing after the Russian government threatened to ban Telegram in the aftermath of a bombing in St. Petersburg earlier that year. Elsewhere, the French government intercepted Telegram messages from individuals planning a terror attack in 2018, raising questions about the app’s security claims. Still, Telegram is known to be largely unregulated, even in authoritarian states, so terrorists are converging on the platform.
3 - Casio F91W-1 Watch
It’s one of Casio’s most popular timepieces — 3 million units are manufactured each year. Cheap, resilient and sturdy, the watch is distributed to recruits at al-Qaida training camps and was even worn by Osama bin Laden himself. The F91W-1’s long timer duration — it can be set for more than a day — has notably been used to detonate bombs. Islamic State fighters have also been known to wear it.
4 - Nokia 105 Phone
To detonate improvised explosive devices, many terrorists turn to the Nokia 105, one of the most basic cellphones around. According to a 2016 report by London-based Conflict Armament Research, it is by far the most common remote trigger used by Islamic State militants. Perhaps the most important factor leading to its ubiquitous use by jihadists is that it costs $30 or less, or that its battery can last for weeks on a single charge. In addition, it is in abundant supply in most places around the world.
Goodies Baddies Love
1 - Soda
Analysts say the Islamic State group uses soda bottles as product placement in its “Western cultural framing” strategy in an attempt to attract young recruits. Bin Laden was another soda fan who, despite his fervent anti-Western ideology, was fond of popular sodas. He had his lieutenants buy these drinks for him in large quantities. Likewise, the diaries of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, aka Abu Zubaydah, who was implicated in the 9/11 attacks, reveal his love for soda, detailing how he would drink an entire bottle “as one shot.”
2 - Video Games
Since its emergence, the Islamic State group has demonstrated keen social media savvy and for years, it leaned on the internet to help it become the world’s most feared terrorist organization. In 2014, it embedded video clips taken from the popular game Grand Theft Auto 5 in a propaganda piece released as part of its recruitment drive. The grand idea? To show potential young recruits that Islamic State members “do the things you do in games, in real life on the battlefield,” according to the video. Worse still, online video games can be used to communicate extreme ideologies and launder money in Europe, according to the EU’s anti-terrorism chief, Gilles de Kerchove.
3 - Fireworks
What has gunpowder and explodes, just like a bomb? Fireworks. Little wonder then that experts warn that your holiday centerpiece could cause the kind of injuries that bombs in war zones are also responsible for. For their part, jihadists and criminals are big fans of using fireworks in bomb-making. For instance, Liverpudlian gangs have a long history of using firework bombs, including a six-month stretch in 2004 when bombs were set off outside three police stations in the city. There’s also the 2010 bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square. Three years later, two brothers used bombs made of pressure cookers and fireworks to target the Boston Marathon.
When Brands Suffer
1 - Thuraya
For decades, the satellite phone has been a favored means of communication by the criminal underworld from Mumbai to Maiduguri, as it allows the user to avoid being monitored by law enforcement. Robbers and pirates love Thuraya. Rebels and terrorists can’t seem to do without it. In 2013, the Nigerian military banned its use in northeastern parts of the country after it emerged that Boko Haram insurgents were using the phones to coordinate operations. Authorities in India banned foreigners from bringing satellite phones into the country in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Made in the United Arab Emirates, Thuraya says that its satellites cover services in more than 160 countries, and it was one of the earliest satellite phones available for public use worldwide.
2 - Arsenal Soccer Jersey
Osama bin Laden was a big soccer fan. An ardent follower of London-based team Arsenal FC, he even attended some games at its stadium as far back as 1994. Other terrorists have also been known to show their love for the club. In the summer of 2017, the ringleader of a three-man gang responsible for killing seven people and wounding dozens of others in a vehicle and stabbing attack in London was an Arsenal fan. He was wearing his jersey when British police shot him dead.
3 - Toyota Pickup Trucks
If you watched the news from Afghanistan last summer, you can’t but have noticed the Taliban’s unmistakable vehicle of choice. Their fighters became almost synonymous with Toyota pickups back in the 1990s and now history is repeating itself. But it’s not just the Taliban. Back in 1987, Chadian soldiers aboard Hiluxes relied on the vehicles so much in skirmishes against better-equipped Libyan troops that the conflict became known as the Toyota War. Today, the sturdy vehicles are also the favorite of Islamic State and militant groups across Iraq, Syria, Chad and Mali. Which might be why Toyota introduced a new contract for buyers at the launch of its 2022 Land Cruiser model in Japan in August: Customers must commit to waiting at least a year before reselling the pickup.
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