Syrian cyberwar rages on

They're at it again. The BBC reported on Monday that Al Jazeera was the latest media outlet to feel the wrath of the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Assad hackers who have recently been running amok in cyberspace. This time, the Qatar-based news station's Arabic SMS service was compromised, and three fake texts were sent to all subscribers. One reportedly announced that Qatar's prime minister had been the target of an assassination attempt while another added that the wife of Qatar's emir had been wounded.

Last Tuesday, Reuters reported that Al Jazeera Arabic's home page was hacked by another pro-Syrian group calling itself "al-Rashedon." The hackers posted a Syrian flag and a statement denouncing the station for its ‘‘position against Syria (people and government) and for special support of the militant terrorism" underneath a large red stamp with the word "hack."

Reuters may have been relieved that they weren't the targets this time. As Foreign Policy recently noted, the British wire service was hacked three times during the month of August. The hackers sent fake tweets from the Reuters Twitter account and also put up false posts on one of its blogs.

Also in August, Amnesty International's blog Livewire was targeted by another pro-Assad hacker group that accused the rebel army of committing massacres that have been linked to government forces. The attack, which was not claimed by any specific group of hackers, included a false blog post lamenting that "it is clear the Al Qaeda affiliated rebels are not going to stop their crimes. And with no accountability and a steady supply of weapons, why should they given they have come this far under NATO protection?"

Another one of the false posts was titled "Amnesty Calls on UN to stop the US, Qatar and Turkey funding and arming Syria Rebels," and created the impression that Amnesty International was condemning NATO and the US for meddling in the Syrian civil war. Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International's USA advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, explained the attack in an article published on the group's website:

"It's entirely possible that, given that we've been so forthright in criticizing the Syrian government for its crimes against humanity; that could conceivably make us the target of some kind of campaign."


As the actual war in Syria continues to spiral out of control, the long and dirty cyberwar between hackers loyal to Assad and those who support the rebels shows no signs of slowing. News organizations across the world are likely buttoning up their security systems and wondering who the next victim will be.


The life and deaths of Sa'id al-Shihri, AQAP's #2

Sa'id al-Shihri, the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed today in the Yemeni province of Hadramawt according to the Yemeni Ministry of Defense. The report was met with skepticism by some Yemen experts. al-Shihri has been reported dead before, but the reports come amid an offensive surge against AQAP targets in Hadramawt, where many militants fled after being pushed out of the province of Abyan in June. Yemeni media reported that he was killed by the Yemeni armed forces, but according to the Washington Post, he was probably killed by an American drone.

Shihri, who went by the pseudonym Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya before being captured by U.S. forces in December 2001, soon after returning to Afghanistan. After several years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Shihri went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September, 2008. Four months later, he appeared in a video announcing the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an aggressive offshoot led by a former bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi, which quickly gained the attention of Western journalists and the intelligence community with a series of high-profile attempted attacks and flashy online periodicals.

Shihri is believed to have helped plan a 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayif, then-head of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism program and a proponent of the jihadi rehabilitation program Shihri underwent. He also worked to raise funds and recruits from Saudi Arabia. Some of his efforts were met with criticism from within the al Qaeda network. Documents recovered from bin Laden's safehouse in Abottabad include a letter from bin Laden criticizing Shihri's communiqués demanding the release of a Saudi fundraiser for AQAP, and suggesting that the al Qaeda franchise clear their press releases with al Qaeda Central.

AQAP, though, seems to have made it a point to assert its independence from al Qaeda central command. In the same letter, Bin Laden also advised against trying to hold territory in Yemen to establish an Islamic emirate -- a suggestion the AQAP leadership pointedly disregarded. Bin Laden's reasoning that it would leave AQAP tied to targets and exposed proved true. And if Shihri really was killed today, it could very well be that his location was revealed as AQAP fled their mistake in Abyan.

-/AFP/Getty Images