Ayaz Hassan, a human rights activist from the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, told the Washington Blade this week during a telephone interview that members of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq are using Grindr and Facebook to “talk to gays in Baghdad.”
Hassan said the militants send messages to people they suspect are gay. He told the Blade that the militants “convince them to go out” on dates after sending them pictures of themselves.
“They take them away and they kill them,” said Hassan.
Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which is also known as the Khazali Network, is a branch of Al-Hashd al-Shabi, a group that is affiliated with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The organization split from the Madhi Army, another Shiite militia run by prominent cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in 2004.
Al-Sadr in July issued a decree that bans his followers from committing violence against LGBT people. A gay Iraqi man who lives in D.C. told the Blade this week the Baghdad killings are a reaction to the order.
“Muqtada’s opinion totally worked against the LGBTQ community in Iraq,” he said. “He has many haters in Iraq.”
Activist: ‘It’s so dangerous’
Anti-LGBT violence is commonplace throughout Iraq.
The so-called Islamic State has publicly executed dozens of men accused of committing sodomy in portions of the country under its control. The gay Iraqi man in D.C. with whom the Blade spoke said militants kidnapped his friend in 2011 after they set up a “fake date” with him.
“They have been doing this for a long time in Baghdad,” he said.
Hassan told the Blade the killings have sparked fear among gay Iraqis in Baghdad and around the country.
“It’s terrifying,” he said from Sulaymaniyah. “Every gay man I know is terrified, even here.”
“I am so scared here,” added Hassan, telling the Blade gay Iraqis are too afraid to use Grindr. “It’s so dangerous.”
Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First said in a statement the reported killings are “consistent with the horrendous patterns of violence in the region” that include “the targeting of men and boys who are gay or perceived to be gay.” He told the Blade that social media is used “as a tool to entrap them.”
“Protecting the lives of the most marginalized, including the LGBT population, needs to remain a top priority for the United States in this region, even as it juggles many other human rights concerns,” said Gaylord. “We also think it’s essential for social media companies to be part of developing solutions to prevent these tragic cases from occurring.”
Neither Grindr nor the Iraqi Embassy in D.C. have returned the Blade’s requests for comment. The Blade has also reached out to the State Department.