Why are al-Qaeda websites going off-line?
April 5, 2012 13 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It began late last month, and nobody seems to really know why: one after another, the most popular pro-al-Qaeda websites around the world have been going off the air, in what appears to be coordinated fashion. For most of the past decade, a host of al-Qaeda-linked websites have acted as online platforms of outreach, propaganda, and communication between the group’s sympathizers around the world. Most fulfill the role of conduits for al-Qaeda’s media production arm, as-Sahab, as well as for al-Fajr Media, al-Qaeda’s online distribution network. These two outfits routinely rely on a collection of websites to deliver online content ranging from glossy periodicals to audio speeches and digital videos. But on March 23, two of the largest pro-al-Qaeda websites, Shamukh al-Islam and the Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum, simultaneously disappeared from the World Wide Web. Two days later, another popular site, al-Fida, also vanished. By March 30, two remaining pro-al-Qaeda forums had also gone off line. Two sites, the Shamukh al-Islam and the Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum, reappeared, but offered no concrete explanation of the reasons why they went off the air in the first place. Interestingly, nobody has claimed responsibility for the disappearance of the pro-al-Qaeda websites, and the US government has refused to state whether its operatives had been engaged in undermining them. But CNN’s Security Clearance blog contacted Brandeis University researcher Aaron Y. Zelin, who offered one possible explanation. The political science professor, who maintains the Jihadology.net blog, said that the outages could be related to the recent arrest in Spain of Mudhar Hussein al-Malki. According to Spanish police, al-Malki was centrally involved in running online forums aimed at “recruitment, indoctrination and radicalization of sympathizers for armed jihad”. Security Clearance also contacted CNN’s National Security Analyst Fran Townsend, who said that the concerted website outings “sound very much like a covert activity”. The blog also contacted an unnamed “US official”, who said simply that the US administration of President Barack Obama has “been aware” of the websites’ disappearance, and that the incident is “of interest to us”.