Al-Qaeda Web Forums Abruptly Taken Offline

Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda’s media wing uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since mid-September, monitors of the Web sites say.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.

Rapid changes in domain-registration information and in servers suggested that the sites’ webmasters were working intently to bring the forums back up, according to a statement from the SITE Intelligence Group, a leading private monitor of Web sites of extremist groups.

However, “the downside of knocking jihadist Web sites offline is that you lose the ability to monitor jihadist activities,” eliminating opportunities for Western monitors to search for ideological weaknesses or clues to future operations, Marquardt said. “When these Web sites are taken offline, it closes an important window.”

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