Cybersecurity analysts say the al-Shamukh forum appears to have been taken down by a fairly sophisticated cyberattack that hit not only the website, but the server — which is the main computer that enables people to access the site over the Internet.
Evan Kohlmann, a counterterrorism expert who tracks jihadist websites as a senior partner with Flashpoint Partners consultancy in New York, described the site as a key al-Qaida propaganda forum.
He said it bounces around between Internet hosts every few months, but has seemingly been allowed to exist as an open secret, possibly allowing a Western government to use it as an intelligence resource.
“These sites can be like spy satellites, they’re great ways of gathering information about your adversaries,” he said in an interview late Wednesday. “Bringing them down is like shooting at your own spy satellites. But there are others who don’t agree with that.”
He said there’s been a “struggle behind the scenes” in the U.S. government about whether to allow the site to stay up.
Other cyber experts agreed that the site is a popular jihadist forum.
“The al-Shamukh website had become the most trusted and exclusive haunt for e-jihadists,” said Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert who has spent a decade monitoring al-Qaida’s media operations and advises the U.S. government. “If it doesn’t come back up soon, the forum’s registered members will start migrating to the half a dozen other main forums, all of whom are probably chomping at the bit to replace Shamukh as the pre-eminent al-Qaida forum.”
The Defense Department said late Wednesday that it was aware of reports that al-Qaida’s Internet operations had been disrupted, but could not comment on the specific incident.
Kohlmann raised the possibility that a government could be behind the website’s problems.
If true, this would not be the first time that government officials have sabotaged an al-Qaida website.(Boston Herald)