Al Qaeda’s main internet fora have been offline for more than a week in what experts say is the longest sustained outage of the websites since they began operating eight years ago.
No one has publicly asserted responsibility for disabling the sites, but the breadth and the duration of the outages have prompted some experts to conclude that the forums have been taken down in a cyberattack — launched perhaps by a government, a government-backed organization or a hackers’ group.
The first website, Shumukh al-Islam, a primary source for al Qaeda videos and messages, went down March 22, and since then four others have gone dark. Shumukh reappeared Monday before going down again. A message claiming to be from the site’s administrators said it would be back up soon.
The administrator of a second-tier al Qaeda site recently posted a message on an online forum saying “the media arena is witnessing a vicious attack by the cross and its helpers on the jihadi media castles.”
Officials in the United States and elsewhere have long been concerned about sites associated with al Qaeda. Those sites have been used to call for violence against Western targets and to try to recruit Islamist extremists to carry out attacks.
There is still some uncertainty about whether a cyberattack caused the recent outages, and skeptics note that some prominent al Qaeda forums remain online. US government agencies had no role in the outages, said officials.
Still, Will McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism official who is a senior fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington varsity, said, given the number of sites affected and the duration of the outages, “it sure looks like a takedown.”
The last lengthy blackout of al Qaeda Web forums took place in the summer of 2010, when British intelligence officials disrupted the launch of an online magazine produced by the network’s affiliate in Yemen.
The prominent al Qaeda site at the time, the forum al-Fallujah, was dark for at least seven days, said Evan Kohlmann, partner at Flashpoint Global Partners, which tracks the sites.
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