Depending on your point of view, Al-Qaeda is either a terrorist group, lead by Osama bin Laden, or an international Sunni Islamist movement. Either way, an important part of the group’s activities is relaying messages to its supporters via its media wing. But that ability has recently taken a knock due to most of Al-Qaeda’s forums disappearing from the Internet.
The group had five main online forums with which to relay messages from its leaders to its supporters, but according to The Washington Post, all but one has now disappeared from the Web. The four that have gone missing seem to have taken a hit on September 10th, the day before the annual video marking the 9/11 attacks was due to be disseminated.
Having four of the websites attacked in this way is clearly a problem, as it leaves the one remaining online forum the only thread left in an already narrow propaganda stream. But while hacking is almost universally believed to be responsible for the shut-downs, who is responsible remains a mystery.
Unknown hackers have been responsible for such closure attempts in the past but while the websites usually spring back up relatively quickly, the fact that they’re still down over a month later has lead to questions over whether this is a more organized attempt to stifle the group’s activities, possibly by government agencies.
Whoever is responsible, there’s also a question mark over whether this is such a sensible move. Erich Marquardt, editor in chief of The Sentinel commented:
The downside of knocking jihadist Web sites offline is that you lose the ability to monitor jihadist activities, eliminating opportunities for Western monitors to search for ideological weaknesses or clues to future operations. When these Web sites are taken offline, it closes an important window.
Having websites taken offline, even temporarily, is clearly a major problem for Al-Qaeda, but all the while there are different factions at work in the world, hacking, and this kind of cyber-terrorism is going to exist, even if the two sides aren’t clearly defined.