Sharjah: Police have arrested five members of a gang for beating up schoolchildren, filming the assaults and threatening to post the videos on social networking site Facebook unless ransom money is paid.

A senior official at the Preventive Security Section at Sharjah Police said the Asian gang called themselves "Death Room," and some went by the alias of Mario, Doori, Lee and Jenjel Bob.

The gang, which comprised of three people of no known nationality and two Asians, targeted children from affluent families.

"The gang would loiter around high cost schools and then pounce on their victim. They would then kick and beat them while at the same time recording the events with a home video recorder," said the official. The victims known to the police are aged 12 to 15 from Asian backgrounds, while the gang members are between the ages of 20 to 25.

After the children were beaten and recorded, the gang would then demand money - ranging between Dh500 to Dh1,000 - to be paid every week. If the victims failed to pay up, the gang threatened to post the videos on the internet site Facebook, and then kill them and their parents.

The gang would contact the children on their mobile phone and explain the details of the location where they should receive the blackmail money.

Upon arrival, the children would once again be abused and recorded on video.

Several of the videos were uploaded onto Facebook, which showed compromising and intimidating, acts such as cigarettes being extinguished on the victims' arms. According to police, the victims' parents were aware of the abuse but were too afraid to contact the police for fear of their lives.

Some parents regularly paid the money, while others resorted to hiring security for their children. Police said that one couple was so scared for their child's safety that they decided to send their child back to their home country. "This appears to have been a long term crime. The silence of the parents enabled the gang to get more victims over a long period of time and receiving vast quantities of money," said the police official.

As of yet, police have evidence for five cases but they believe that there are many more.

Contact: Helpline

Sharjah Police are urging victims to come forward if they have been targeted by the gang. Police have set up a designated hotline number for this case: 06 5487000

Advice: Support for victims

Victims of the Facebook plot, including the family, require love and support from each other and society, as well as psychological intervention to prevent long-term psychological problems, said an expert in the field.

Raymond Hamden, clinical and forensic psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, told Gulf News the whole family would be affected, especially the children/teenagers who are vulnerable to shame and fear arising from the attacks. "They are at the age where they are too young to be adults and too old to be children. It's a horrific act by psychopathic people and they may be scarred," he said.

He said psychological intervention, or Critical Stress Debriefing, is needed as soon as possible to prevent the victims from developing chronic disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an anxiety disorder, in which victims can develop flashbacks about the traumatic event, withdrawal from people, nightmares, problems with sleep and memory, and impaired functioning.

About 30 per cent of teenagers exposed to community violence develop the disorder, according to a 2007 study conducted by a team of scientists in India.

- Nina Muslim, Staff Reporter Source