A backpatch of a freestanding dove is worn proudly by gang members. Their chosen insignia is borrowed from Sarayat al Salam, the Peace Brigade militia firebrand cleric Muqtada al Sadr commands.
The motif is not all that they share. Their public social media pages wax lyrical about Sadr, whom they promote as a demigod figure. Some devotees bear the tattooed Arabic words “Labayk ya Sayyed Muqtada” in an expression of predilection and commitment to the populist leader.
The club was founded by a small ring of Iraqis who reached the shores of Europe in late 2015 in search of opportunities and liberties missing back home. Their arrival sparked the birth of a movement not entirely new, but that which has never existed in Europe.
“Our members come in all shades and shapes” spokesman Mohammad Bunia explained in one of the group’s glamourous self-promoting videos. “We have Christians, Sunnis, Shia, Germans, Albanians, Russians, Turks, Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and plenty more” adding that “our sons are many, including those that serve in our name”.
The number of recruits stretched across the vast terrain is estimated at approximately 700 to 800 strong. A sizeable portion of club members are in fact licensed security guards known to have chaperoned little known Iraqi artists as they tour Europe. They frequent glitzy bars and restaurants, clad in ill-fitted suits and garish outfits.
The coalition of middle-age men strike confident poses and hurtle down roads in their polished motorcycles in a confident display of their masculinity and self-worth. These men are no Marlon Brando however. Their repertoire remains distinctly Iraqi whilst their accents suggest members hail mostly from Baghdad and Southern Iraq.
Their rebuttal of accusations of criminality and vigilantism exudes similar confidence, as an extended arm of one of Iraq’s most powerful local militias.
“People have accused us of being a gang, a mafia organization. But this is nonsense” Abu Mehdi declared in one of their public videos.
Whilst boasting mostly about the protection of public interests, Salam 313 bears all the hallmarks of a vigilante political movement. Threats are voiced regularly by members, and on occasion the group's violent activities are also brandished.
Recent confrontation between Salam 313 and amateur social media star Mustafa al Hajji, on the streets of Vienna is the latest of their social media escapades.
After months of surveillance and information sharing, Salam 313 members tracked down al Hajji and knocked him out cold on the streets of Vienna where he resides. The savage assault concluded months of death threats dispensed Hajji’s way.
For the unacquainted, Mustafa al Hajji is a media sensation who rose to fame inside Iraq for his flamboyancy and controversial views on domestic politics.
The latest scuffle between him and Salam gang members was captured on film and posted online, but taken down and replaced hours later with a screenshot of the floored victim. “Mustafa al Hajji’s sweet beating … knocked unconscious for 6 hours” read the accompanying caption.
Another of their Baghdad affiliates from Badr Corps, based members -- coincidentally known as Jassim al Hajji -- released a video where he is seen carrying a sledgehammer as he announces his trip to Mustafa al Hajji’s mother's grave, to dig up her dead corpse. While denying having executed this plan, the mere suggestion is nauseatingly immoral.
“We will not stand for the desecration of Islamic symbols and signs” one man said self-assuredly in another video. Reading between the lines, the group appears to be voicing a zero-tolerance policy of political dissent against figures to whom Salam is allied to.
The domestic legal system across Europe there to uphold the rights of religious communities is more than capable of holding those that exploit religious differences to account. Yet the conviction of these men to administer punishments has been voiced loud and clear.
The assault against al Hajji is revealing of not only the group’s capabilities but their aspirations to acquire hegemonic status as a transnational vigilante motorcyclists, emboldened by the support they receive from Sadr’s recalcitrant militia.
They stand accused by Hajji and others of clothing themselves in false claims of Sunni persecution to secure residency in their chosen European destination.
Salam 313 is no single organisation but part of a bigger life chain that consists of multiple militia groups whose command can be traced to Baghdad.
One Iraqi resident in Austria who asked to remain anonymous speculated on the nature of illicit gang activities, insisting that contraband smuggling, illegal migration, drug and human trafficking are but self-funding enterprises, due to the difficulties they face in Europe finding lawful careers.
The threat though unapparent just one year after the group’s birth may soon be felt, all the while the network of militias disguised as vigilantes grows.
FRB remains one of the only agencies to have monitored this phenomenon in its published ‘Iraqi militiamen in Europe’ list, in an effort to measure the threat these former-fighters or militia affiliates pose to Europe.
Other cases of militia henchman distributing threats to those that oppose their behaviour and alliances have also been documented by FRB.
One case involved a 47 year old London based Iraqi whose life and family were threatened after he exposed a money laundering scheme involving Sadrist MP, Baha Al Araji.
But as FRB uncovered at the time, a clear line of financial and ideological backing can be drawn from Europe to Baghdad. Gang members, like Salam 313 are mobilizing fast, roaming the streets of europe meting out beatings, without repercussions.
More images and videos of Salam 313: