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A Sunni-Shiite battle of the website hackers

While some Middle East experts say tit-for-tat cyberattacks on Islamic websites amounts to a virtual sectarian battle, others suspect third-party agitators could be the culprits.

Cyber truce? During the recent Eid-al-Fitr holiday, religiously motivated computer hackers, apparently Shiite Muslims, offered a truce in the sectarian hacker war. The image above, on an Islamic website, was seen as an olive branch.

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Sunni-Shiite tensions have been on vivid display in cyberspace as hundreds of religiously oriented websites on both sides have fallen prey to retaliatory hacking raids.

The cyberassaults temporarily defaced websites of prominent Muslim clerics, including those of Iraqi Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the late Sunni mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Abdullah bin Baz.

More recently, Shiite hackers attacked the website of Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned channel based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. For hours, site visitors were redirected to a page where, beneath an image of a burning Israeli flag, large red letters in English and Arabic declared: "Serious Warning. If attacks on Shia WebSites Continue, none of your WebSites Will be SAFE."

Middle East experts say that this online psychological battle should be seen in the context of Sunni dismay over what they see as Iran's strategic gains in Arab nations, especially Iraq.

Although it's hard to show any direct connection in the cloaked world of Web sabotage, the interreligious hacking really took off after prominent Sunni cleric Yousef al-Qaradawi called Shiites "heretics" and accused them of trying to "invade" Sunni communities in a Sept. 9 interview.

His remarks were "a green light" for Sunnis to go on the offensive against Shiite sites, says Ali Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Gulf Institute, a Saudi opposition think tank.


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