* Group says will target Syrian embassies
* Rights groups warn of further crackdown
By Oliver Holmes
BEIRUT, Nov 30 Global hacking network Anonymous
said it will shut down Syrian government websites around the
world in response to a countrywide Internet blackout believe
aimed at silencing the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria was plunged into communication darkness on Thursday
when Internet connectivity stopped at midday. Land lines and
mobile phones networks were also seriously disrupted.
The Syrian government said "terrorists" had attacked
Internet lines but the opposition and human rights groups
suspect it to be the work of the authorities.
Opposition activists have used the Internet extensively to
further their cause by publishing footage of aerial strikes and
graphic images of civilian casualties. In the absence of a free
press, they have used social media to disseminate information
during the uprising and communicate with journalists abroad.
Anonymous, a loose affiliation of hacking groups that
opposes Internet censorship, said it will remove from the
Internet all web assets belonging to Assad's government that are
outside Syria, starting with embassies.
By 1000 GMT on Friday, the website for Syria's embassy in
Belgium was down but the embassy in China - which Anonymous said
it would target first - was operating. Most government ministry
websites were down although this could be due to the blackout.
Several networking experts said that it was highly unlikely
that the lines had been sabotaged by anti-Assad forces.
CloudFlare, a firm that helps accelerate Internet traffic,
said on its blog that saboteurs would have had to simultaneously
sever three undersea cables into the port city of Tartous and
also an overland cable through Turkey in order to cut off the
entire country's Internet access.
"That is unlikely to have happened," CloudFlare said.
The government has been accused of cutting communications in
previous assaults on rebel-held areas. Anonymous said Assad's
government had physically "pulled the plug out of the wall".
"As we discovered in Egypt, where the dictator (Hosni)
Mubarak did something similar - this is not damage that can be
easily or quickly repaired," it added, referring to an Internet
outage during the early days of the 2011 uprising in Egypt.
French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said the
communications cut was of a matter of "extreme concern".
"It is another demonstration of what the Damascus regime is
doing to hold its people hostage. We call on the Damascus regime
to reestablish communications without delay," he said.
Rebels have seized a series of army bases across Syria this
month, exposing Assad's loss of control in northern and eastern
regions and on Thursday fighting on the outskirts of the capital
blocked access to the international airport.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the uprising
began in March 2011, according to opposition groups.
Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International,
said the Internet cut could signal that Assad is seeking to hide
the truth of what is happening in the country from the outside
Syrian authorities have severely restricted non-state media
from working in the country.
The hacker collective has staged cyber attacks on the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's Serious Organised
Crime Agency. Earlier this month, The Israeli government said it
logged more than 44 million hacking attempts in just a few days
during its military assault on Gaza after Anonymous waged a