The Snapchat Murder: Somali Teenager's Death Gives Insight Into UK Knife Crime

© AFP 2022 / Lionel BonaventureThe logo of mobile app "Snapchat" is displayed on a tablet on January 2, 2014 in Paris.
The logo of mobile app Snapchat is displayed on a tablet on January 2, 2014 in Paris. - Sputnik International
Youth violence and knife crime is on the rise in the UK, with a growing number of stabbings, especially in London. Sputnik looks at what lay behind one of this year's killings, which turned out to be sparked by a trivial row on Snapchat between former friends.

A 16-year-old boy was found guilty at the Central Criminal Court in London on Wednesday, December 20, of the murder of Osman Sharif Soufi.

Osman's parents were Somali refugees who had come to London for a better and a safer life.

He was born in 2001, when the phenomenon of social media was in its earliest infancy — Snapchat had not even been invented — but on the afternoon of June 6 this year (two days before the General Election) Osman's life was ended by his former friend after a bit of "banter" on Snapchat spiralled out of control.

Plagued by Violence

Shortly after 5pm on a summer's evening Osman was stabbed with a seven-inch kitchen knife in a street in Tottenham, a deprived, inner city part of north London which has often been associated with violence and gang crime.

Less than a mile away is the Broadwater Farm estate, in October 1985 the scene of one of the worst riots in British history, which led to a miscarriage of justice and the still-unsolved murder of police officer PC Keith Blakelock.

In the summer of 2011, the area was again the scene of riots, triggered by the death of Mark Duggan, member of notorious local gang Tottenham Man Dem (TMD).

Tottenham has been home to a large Afro-Caribbean community since the 1960s and 70s. Among the landmarks that cropped up in the trial were the Bernie Grant Arts Centre — christened after one of the first black MPs in England — and Marcus Garvey Centre — named after the father of "black nationalism".

Tottenham is also home to significant numbers of Turkish, Kurdish and African migrants, and a growing Somali community.

As Somalia crumbled and splintered in the 1990s — the northern part has broken away to become Somaliland, the southern part is fought over by warlords and the Islamist zealots of al-Shabaab — millions fled north to Europe.

Many — like Osman's parents — came to Britain, once the colonial power in northern Somalia. 

Osman and his killer spent a lot of time on social media, shooting the breeze and masking their insecurities.

Just after midnight on June 6 the boy logged onto Snapchat and started reading messages which were flying around between his group of 11 friends.

'Banter' Turned Deadly

Giving evidence, he explained how the conversation on Snapchat developed.

"Osman and I were having a little banter. Osman said he was the most driller. He was the most certified," said the boy, who was wearing a smart black suit and tie and a white shirt.

His lawyer, Sally O'Neill QC, asked him what those terms meant, in colloquial street slang. 

"Tough basically. But I put a lot of laughing emojis. I was laughing at what he was saying," said the defendant.

"What was his reaction?" she asked him.

"He was getting a bit wound up. He was getting hyped up in the groupchat because people were saying ‘don't let him say that to you'," replied the defendant.

"It was all banter but Osman took it the wrong way," claimed the teenager, who said Osman then sent him a private video message in which he posted a selfie of himself and under it typed "Come and meet me now. I'm going to kill you."

The defendant said he responded by sending more laughter emojis and went to sleep thinking nothing of it.

The following day, around 3.45pm, another fight broke out in Tottenham Green, which the trial heard was also a result of Snapchat.

One of the boys had been aggrieved that another teenager posted a video on Snapchat of his girlfriend fighting.

The defendant knew the boy and told the court he helped break up the fight.

Moments later he said Osman arrived, armed with a hammer, and started swinging it in his direction.

A few minutes later, in a nearby street, the boy stabbed Osman to death.

He claimed someone else had slipped the knife into his hand after Osman brandished the hammer, and Osman then jumped onto the blade.

"Did you deliberately stab him?" Ms. O'Neill asked him.

"No," he replied.

"Were you trying to do him really serious harm or kill him?" she asked.

"No," he replied.

'People Have Knives'

During the trial a 16-year-old girl chillingly gave evidence, saying she'd seen the defendant waving the seven-inch kitchen knife at Osman and was asked by prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC if she was not alarmed by the sight of the blade.

"People have knives. I don't see them every day but people have knives. I didn't think he was going to use it," the girl replied nonchalantly.

Another girl, who'd been with Osman shortly before he was stabbed, said he was preoccupied with his phone and looked unhappy.

At one point he received a phone call.

"Oh my days. This boy wants convo. I'm coming," she said he told her.

She also stated he told her he'd be back in 10 minutes, but never returned and was found with the knife buried in his chest.

Commenting, Detective Inspector Tom Dahri, Homicide and Major Crime Command said: "We believe these two teenagers became engaged in a dispute over a social media post on snapchat the previous evening.

"This argument sadly escalated the following day resulting in a young boy tragically losing his life. Osman's family has been devastated by his loss.

"This incident clearly highlights the dangers and tragic consequences of young persons carrying knives in the streets of London. This incident has affected two families for the rest of their lives."    

Nationwide Phenomenon

Osman was one of four Somali males who have been killed on the streets of London this year.

The first was Abdullahi Tarabi, 19, who was stabbed to death in Northolt in February. Two teenagers have been acquitted of his murder.

Then in June Mahad Ali, 18, was knifed in Park Royal and in November Khalid Abdi Farah, 26, was shot dead in Greenford.

Violent crime in the UK is not restricted to London, however — last month three men were jailed for life in Yorkshire for murdering Raheem Wilks, the brother of Leeds United footballer Mallik Wilks.

The trial heard one of the killers, Keal Richards, posted a video on Snapchat hours after Mr. Wilks was gunned down in a barbershop in the city of Leeds giving a "whoop of delight" and reciting lyrics from a rap song.    

In that case detectives in West Yorkshire liaised with Snapchat, and were able to recover the clip and use it as evidence.   

Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Spencer, who led the investigation, told Sputnik he took advantage of Snapchat's own law enforcement guide.  

"A couple of hours after the murder one of the defendants was posting something quite relevant on Snapchat. It took nine months to get hold of it but it certainly supplemented the evidence we had," Detective Chief Inspector Spencer told Sputnik.

"It's the way of the world. Everybody has a mobile and everybody is communicating. But those apps are ever-evolving and we are always playing catch-up," Detective Chief Inspector Spencer told Sputnik. 

He said the Leeds murder was a dispute between rival organized crime gangs and was a "targeted attack."

Snapchat is owned by Snap Inc, a US company based in Los Angeles.

"Snap is only able to disclose data from a user's account in response to a US warrant. This means that law enforcement agencies outside of the US need to use Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) or letters rogatory processes to seek user information from Snapchat. I don't have insight into the duration of the MLAT process, but it is a judicial process involving the Home Office and US Attorney General. As I indicate below, Snapchat will review and respond to properly submitted preservation requests while the MLAT or letters rogatory process is undertaken," said Tanya Ridd, a spokesperson for Snap Inc told Sputnik.    

The Official for National Statistics said nearly 37,000 offenses involving bladed weapons were committed in England and Wales in the 12 months to the end of June this year.

Osman's killer will be sentenced January 26, but faces a mandatory life sentence.

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