Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- After less than 24 hours offline, the fundamentalist website Al Saha was again accessible to members worldwide. Last Thursday, users were surprised to discover that the site was unavailable and its usual mix of articles on terrorism, fundamentalism and slanderous campaigns against journalists, writers, novels and public figures, unavailable. The website is managed by Fares net and originates in the United Arab Emirates.
However, Abdallah Hashim, assistant director of the electronic unit at Ittisalat, the communications company, told Asharq al Awsat the website had suffered from technical difficulties and would return online in the next two days. He indicated that the website was not based in the UAE but managed by UAE nationals.
According to speculations, the site was officially shut down by the UAE government as a result of the increasing criticism directed against from regional and international parites.
Established in the late 1990s, Al Saha has created controversy because it was considered a forum for al Qaeda, and included the group’s propaganda, video footage of terrorist operations and hostages in Iraq, including footage of hostages being killed. It also included the magazine “Voice of Jihad”, mouthpiece of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.
According to a statement by the Saudi interior ministry, one of al Saha’s most famous contributors, known by his online nickname Akhu man Ta’ Allah, was an active member of al Qaeda in the Kingdom. He also edited the magazine until his arrest in May 2005. His real name, according to the ministry is Abdulaziz al Tuwaily.
Observers told Asharq al Awsat his capture and the subsequent unmasking of his online identity dealt a heavy blow to al Qaeda’s activities on the internet. Others added that this was not the first case of al Qaeda followers and sympathizers contributing to Islamist websites and using the internet to further to publicize their activities. Most contributors use aliases, sometimes more than one at a time. Youusef al Ariri, al Qaeda’s first leader in the Kingdom, was renowned for being active in cyberspace.
Dr. Abdul Rahman al Shaer, Dean of the Center for Studies and Research at Naif University for the security sciences, said websites were vital for terrorists because they allowed them to disseminate their takfeer ideology (accusing Muslims of being infidels), undermine the security of countries that host them and are easily accessible worldwide. The danger, he added, lies when innocent readers consult these websites and are influenced by their fundamentalist content. It was therefore necessary to adopt a hard-line approach and deal firmly with all contributors to these sites, as their only objective is to cause unrest among the people. “Thos who post on these sites which seek to undermine security and propagate takfeer ideology are not less dangerous than those carrying out terrorist operations.”
For his part, Mansur al Utaybi, head of the Information Center at King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology told Asharq al Awsat he did not know whether the organization had blocked the site to Saudi visitors. He explained that only the site operators can close down a site but that the authority responsible for censoring the internet, in this case the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology, could block access to it. The security department in charge of monitoring the internet focuses on websites that call for undermining Saudi Arabia ’s security, offend Islam and Prophet Mohammed, or teach users magic or gambling, he added.
An estimated 100 thousand individuals are listed as official al Saha members, while the number of active participants and contributors is around 20 thousand. As a result of the site’s popularity, membership has been suspended and new members can only be accepted through the recommendation of an existing member. Asharq al Awsat learned that new members can take on old aliases and that in some cases a membership cost as much as 4000 Saudi Riyals.
Tariq Fares, the Emirati site owner, was reportedly offered $4million Saudi Riyals to sell the website but decline.
It is worth mentioning that verbal battles took place between al Saha and several liberal Saudi websites, the most famous of which was Dar al Nadwah, before it shut down.