Al Qaeda sites go silent in possible cyber attack
Washington: Al Qaeda's main Internet sites
have gone silent for more than a week in an unprecedented
outage for the extremist network's online forums, analysts
said on Wednesday.
"All of them essentially went down" as of March 23, said
Aaron Zelin, a researcher at the politics department at
The outage hit a number of online forums including two
"flagship" sites, al-Fida and Shamukh al-Islam, which serve
as a channel for al Qaeda forums, providing a stamp of
approval for any associated sites, Zelin said.
"The forums authenticate al Qaeda's message, therefore
they're very important," said Zelin, who writes about
extremist Islamist sites on jihadology.net.
"If someone is a true believer in the cause, they're going
to go to the forum because they know it's the only place they
can get al Qaeda's message."
One of the two main sites, Shamukh al-Islam, reappeared
online yesterday but had not yet resumed message threads, he
A "second-tier" site, Ansar al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum,
was restored within three days, he said.
No one has claimed credit for the blackout, which bore all
the signs of a cyber attack, analysts said, as the forums
usually post messages announcing a temporary interruption if
they close the sites themselves.
The digital sabotage could have been carried out by any
number of governments or private hackers, said James Lewis,
director of the technology and public policy program at the
Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
"There are some many potential suspects," Lewis said.
The long silence from the sites suggested al Qaeda was
having difficulty getting service restored and was no longer
as capable in the cyber realm.
"It's not a good sign for them that they can't straighten
this out more quickly," Lewis said. "It could be seen as sign
The last time al Qaeda's sites faced a major outage was in
June 2010, when British intelligence sought to block the
release of an online magazine from al Qaeda's branch in Yemen,
according to Zelin.
Western officials have often debated the best approach to
al Qaeda's online presence.
Although the group's forums are used to encourage terror
attacks and spread extremism, the sites also provide a way for
intelligence services to monitor the network's militants.
"There is always a debate over whether it's better to
exploit or to disrupt. In this case, since one site came back
up, it might be a way to funnel jihadis and make them easier
to observe," Lewis said.