Al-Qaeda’s main forums have gone dark for 11 days in what experts suspect to be the result of cyber-attack carried out by hackers affiliated to the U.S. spy agencies.
Al-Qaeda Shumukh al-Islam forum, went offline on March 22 and after that four more forums were down.
According to the Washington Post, the administrator of an al-Qaeda Website 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.”
Al-Qaeda has long used the internet to recruit new members and coordinate attacks between Jihadists worldwide. Islamist extremist websites have been a source of concern for Western governments, mainly in the United States and Britain.
The Post quoted Will McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism official, saying what is happening with al-Qaeda forums “sure looks like a takedown.”
He said if the online sites go down due to technical problems “usually they will get on another site and say we’ve got administrative problems.
Evan Kohlmann, senior partner at Flashpoint Global Partners, told the Post the recent attacks on al-Qaeda web sites have begun to affect contacts between Jihadists worldwide.
“At least temporarily, the social networking among jihadists has been disrupted,” he said. “The remaining forums are really struggling to attract the participation of users.”
For years, U.S. intelligence officials have relied on these forums to gather insights into conversations among radicals. Some officials have argued against attempts to shut down the forums, saying they provide valuable intelligence.
Regardless of the reason of the latest outages, if they continue, the bigger consequence could be far-reaching, said A. Aaron Weisburd, a senior fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute who runs Internet Haganah, a site that tracks extremist forums.
“It leaves the rank-and-file to guess which messages and which messengers are genuine al-Qaeda, and provides undercover operators with new opportunities to disrupt the movement,” he said.