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New media  |  Special report: Iraq - the media war  |  Television

Al-Jazeera websites 'hit by hackers'

Dominic Timms
Wednesday March 26, 2003


The English-language and Arabic websites of Qatar-based broadcaster al-Jazeera were forced down this morning after a spate of suspected hacker attacks
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last night.

Neither aljazeera.net, which gets the most hits of any Arabic website in the world, nor english.aljazeera.net, which launched on Monday, were available this morning after suspected attacks crashed both sites.

Speaking from the broadcaster's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, communications manager Jihad Ali Ballout told MediaGuardian.co.uk the company was doing everything possible to get the sites up and running.

"Our people are doing our best but it could take some time," he said.

Asked where the attacks originated, Ali Ballout said: "I wish I knew. There are rumours that the attacks originated in the US but at this moment in time we cannot verify that. But it is worrying and an indication perhaps [that] in certain quarters there is a fear of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

"I am so concerned this is happening when there are clear lines that should be drawn."

While al-Jazeera's English website has no multimedia capability and so can't show video, its TV arm has come under attack in the US for showing footage of US prisoners of war and allied fatalities.

The Arabic website showed video footage of US servicemen and women captured by the Iraqis on Sunday, prompting the site to be deluged with hits.

However, it stood up at the weekend, even though according to Lycos al-Jazeera was the most searched-for name on the web. Both sites were available earlier this week.

The criticism followed reports that the US hosting service that runs the English-language site has buckled under pressure and agreed not to host the site from the end of this month.

The US company DataPipe, a brand name of Hoboken Web Services, said it was ending its relationship with the company that operates the site. It is understood al-Jazeera is trying to move its hosting to Europe.

The sites are most likely to have been hit by so-called "denial of service" attacks, when sites are deliberately taken out by unprecedented volumes of traffic.

The al-Jazeera sites may also have been affected by so-called "typo squatters" who register similar domain names and either redirect traffic to a new site or rewrite news stories.

UK sources close to al-Jazeera said that such a site - aljazeerah.net - appeared yesterday just prior to the attacks.

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