Some researchers who have been tracking the SEA for years say the group appears to have at least “tacit support” from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Others argue the group is operated out of Dubai by deep-pocketed supporters of the Syrian regime. Still others say the connection with the Assad regime is quite direct.
“The SEA definitely has a close relationship with the regime,” says Amjad Baiazy, an independent cyber-researcher in London who was held in detention by the regime in 2011. “I can’t say if they are also supported by certain individuals, but I can say they are funded by the regime. There are also strong indications that members of the group are trained by Iranian [information technology] experts.”
The fact that the group’s website is hosted on the national Syrian network, where local web hosting is highly politicized, indicates at the very least “tacit support” from the Assad regime, according to Helmi Noman, a senior researcher with Citizen Lab, a cyber-research center at the University of Toronto.
Such “local hosting of sensitive content indicates state approval or at least tolerance of the content and the people behind the content,” Mr. Noman writes in an e-mail interview. Even so, “I do not have information that suggests that the SEA is a Syrian state operation, but the tacit support which we have documented can potentially amount to sponsorship.”
It is significant, as well, that President Assad thanked the group in a major televised speech in 2011, which Noman calls “a prerequisite political blessing without which such a group with questionable activities cannot operate.”