Morocco's 'video sniper' sparks a new trend

Do you have a video camera and access to the Internet? Then you have a powerful weapon at your disposal. If you use it as the 'Targuist sniper' did in Morocco, you might even bring about social change.
By Layal Abdo, Contributor
Morocco, video sniper © R.R.
Exposed: scenes from the Targuist sniper's first YouTube video. © R.R.

On YouTube, he presents himself under the pseudonym "Targuist sniper".

His only weapon is a video camera.

Thanks to four videos posted on the video-sharing website between July and October of this year, this Moroccan citizen has single-handedly launched a nationwide debate about one of the most annoying things about life in Morocco: police corruption.

The Targuist sniper, who has remained anonymous despite giving several media interviews, embarked on his modern "Robin Hood" enterprise in the simplest way possible.

One day, he decided to post himself with his video camera on the outskirts of the small village where he lives, Targuist in the Rif mountains, and proceeded to film the daily ritual of policemen demanding hand-outs ('bakchich') from passing motorists.

The first video was posted on YouTube on July 8, 2007.

It shows two gendarmes stopping cars on the outskirts of Targuist and routinely extending their hand to pocket bank notes from the unlucky drivers of the passing cars and vans.

There was no commentary; only a text message flashing across the screen, denouncing "a flagrant act of corruption, which encourages terrorists and drug dealers."

Since then, the Targuist sniper has posted a second video, again showing corrupt gendarmes in the same region. Then a third, shot at the Beni Nsar border crossing with the Spanish enclave of Melilla. And recently, a fourth.

Of course, police corruption is nothing new in Morocco. It is one of the hassles of daily life that Moroccans have come to accept.

It took a young man in a tiny village in a remote mountain region to challenge the status quo.

And it took the Internet.

According to YouTube's own statistics, the Targuist sniper's videos have been viewed close to 400,000 times since they were posted.

More importantly, the sniper's actions have already produced concrete and positive results.

The Moroccan authorities have allegedly copied the sniper's tactics, and have dispatched their own 'video sniper teams': plainclothes policemen in anonymous cars who try to catch their corrupt colleagues red-handed.

The corrupt policemen themselves have become wary of 'citizen journalists'; Moroccan citizens report that in some regions, the gendarmes have started to scan their surroundings suspiciously looking for hidden 'video snipers'.

The Targuist sniper has also spawned a new trend, it seems.

His superstar status on YouTube has inspired many other young Moroccans to follow in his steps.

This video by iyounes shows Moroccan police officers accepting a bribe from a hashish smuggler.

This one, also by iyounes, shows police beating up a street vendor on a popular beach. It goes as far as naming the Moroccan politicians held responsible for the state of corruption in Morocco.

Others have denounced prostitution and pedophilia.

The Targuist sniper, it seems, has spawned a whole new generation of Moroccan citizen journalists who have discovered YouTube as a new form of expression and a means to expose injustices in their country.

And the Moroccan authorities seem to be taking the phenomenon seriously; the Targuist sniper's videos have already led to the arrest of nine corrupt policemen and the transfer of others.

In a recent interview with the Moroccan news weekly TelQuel, the Targuist sniper said he was "just a Moroccan citizen who dreams of a better Morocco, and of security services worthy of the name, whose priority would be to protect the people and not to pick them clean as is the case today."

According to TelQuel, several young men, among them the Targuist sniper, have recently been interrogated by the police of Al Hoceima, a town not far from Targuist.

And it looks like the police are treating them, not as suspects, but as witnesses for the prosecution.

Indeed, after the Moroccan media published reports suggesting that the video activists themselves had been arrested in and around Targuist, the Moroccan press agency MAP quoted an official source saying that "the authors of the videos denouncing acts of corruption have been identified and have been invited to make a statement. They will appear as witnesses in the judicial procedure."

So is the Internet the ultimate weapon in the fight against corruption?

In Morocco, at least, it has proved to be an efficient, discreet and cheap way for citizens to take control of their own destiny.

But not everybody is convinced of the value of the snipers' work.

"Loum44", in a comment posted on YouTube, remarks: "You guys are targeting small-time gendarmes who take 20 dirhams because life is tough in Morocco. What we really need is  snipers who target the big thieves who are still getting away with it."

The Targuist Sniper's four videos:

Morocco, Video sniper, Gendarmes 1 Morocco, Video sniper, Gendarmes 2 Morocco, Video sniper, Gendarmes 3 Morocco, Video sniper, Gendarmes 4

Some of his copycats' videos:

Morocco, Video sniper, Beach Morocco, Video sniper, Cannabis