Al Jazeera Websites Hacked by Assad Supporters
Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English websites were hacked on Tuesday in the latest of a string of electronic attacks by supporters of the Assad regime in Syria. For several hours the hacked Al Jazeera websites displayed a Syrian flag and a message denouncing Al Jazeera’s “positions against the Syrian people and government.” A group that calls itself “al-Rashedon” claimed responsibility for the attack.
Assad loyalists have stepped up cyber attacks in the past year, targeting a range of international organizations that attackers claim are biased against the Assad government. Hackers gained access to the Reuters blog three times in as many weeks in August 2012 and posted false reports of rebel defeats and human rights abuses. Amnesty International and Harvard University have been the victims of similar attacks. A group called the Syrian Electronic Army was often credited with previous online offensives, and while al-Rashedon appears to be a separate entity, analyst Aaron Zellin suggested that the new collective “may be a cyber arm of the Shabiha militia loyal to Syrian president.”
Al Jazeera has extensively documented the Arab revolutions since early 2011, but the network’s coverage of the Syrian uprising has come under increasing scrutiny. In August, prominent commentator Sultan al-Qassemi criticized the Qatari news outlet for “tend[ing] to paper over the rebels’ flaws and emphasiz[ing] the conflict’s religious fault lines,” while this spring a group of Al Jazeera employees resigned in protest of the network’s alleged biases in Syria and Bahrain.