At least a dozen young Iraqis have been stoned to death in recent weeks in an apparent campaign by Shiite Muslim religious extremists to punish youths sporting Western-style "emo" clothes and haircuts. Though the government is not directly implicated, the violence began after the Interior Ministry issued a statement branding the country's growing "emo" subculture as subversive, and vowing to eliminate it. What's behind this killing spree? Here, a brief guide:

Who exactly is being targeted?
Human rights activists say the victims — including those killed, and others merely beaten as a warning —  are young gay men, or teenagers who dress in the "emo" style. Emo — short for "emotional hardcore" — is a genre of music and an aesthetic that originated in the U.S. punk scene of the 1980s. In fashion terms, it typically translates to tight T-shirts, skinny jeans, and long side-swept black hair. In Iraq, the term is used more loosely to describe "a uniquely Iraqi collage of hipster, punk, emo, and goth fashions," says Jack Healy in The New York Times. The look has grown in popularity as war faded and Iraqis began enjoying greater social freedoms.

Why are these "emo" kids being singled out?
The stonings began after the Interior Ministry branded the "phenomenon of emo" as Satanic last month. The ministry said the rebellious fashion statements, which include dark clothes and skull-print T-shirts, are symbols of the devil, and it dispatched its Social Police to go into Baghdad schools to investigate "the emo" and "eliminate them." Shiite extremists, who conflate emo style with being gay, which they forbid, began posting flyers warning the "emo" youth to "stop being gay, or face deadly consequences." The flyers included a hit list with the names or nicknames of 33 people, along with their home addresses.

Is there any hope the killings will stop?
The Interior Ministry has issued another statement insisting it never meant that "emo" kids should be harmed, and that young people are free to dress as they like. Ministry officials also insist that anti-emo sentiment had nothing to do with the killings, which it chalks up to revenge attacks and common crimes. Influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says "emo" youths are as "crazy and fools," but they are a "plague on Muslim society" that officials should deal with through legal means. But "emo" kids say they now live in fear, and many have cut their hair and changed their dress to avoid becoming targets.

Sources: Huffington Post, NY Times, Reuters