Is cyberwar coming to the war on terrorism? Two apparently unrelated developments seem to indicate so. The Washington Post reports that four out of al-Qaeda's main online forums have been taken offline, apparently due to infiltration by government sources.
The disappearance of the forums on Sept. 10 -- and al-Qaeda's apparent inability to restore them or create alternate online venues, as it has before -- has curbed the organization's dissemination of the words and images of its fugitive leaders. On Sept. 29, a statement by the al-Fajr Media Center, a distribution network created by supporters of al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, said the forums had disappeared "for technical reasons," and it urged followers not to trust look-alike sites.Meanwhile, Sunni-Shia conflict is moving online.
In September, hackers targeted what Iranian news media estimated to be 300 Shiite sites, many of them operated by Shiite religious leaders in Iran. Targets included the official site of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq.
Alleged Shiite hackers responded in force. By Oct. 1, hundreds of sites run by Sunnis, including those of religious figures, had vanished. In their place appeared a site featuring an Iranian flag superimposed over the intense gaze of a smiling woman.
At least some things are the same all the world over.
"The way of hacking is that they attack and we respond," an anonymous Iranian hacker wrote. "The future will reveal our next step."