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'They Will Not be Able to Gag Us:' Syrian Human Rights Monitor Defiant After Islamic State Hacks Website

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights catalogues attacks, executions, bombings, torture, and other human rights abuses throughout Syria. It's back online after pro-IS hackers took it down Wednesday.

by Justin Ling
Jul 9 2015, 10:25pm

Imagen por Sedat Suna/EPA

Activists working on behalf of the so-called Islamic State targeted the homepage of the main human rights monitor in Syria on Wednesday, leaving the group without a site for more than 24 hours.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) catalogues attacks, executions, bombings, torture, and other human rights abuses that take place throughout Syria, painstakingly keeping track of the crimes being committed to the backdrop of the country's brutal civil war.

Rami Abdurrahman, a Syrian national who runs the site out of his apartment, operates a network of contacts that appraise him of the death tolls in Syria.

The website, in recent years, has turned attention to the atrocities committed by IS throughout the fractured country. That, apparently, has made them a target.

"The official website of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was subject to a systematic hacking operation and wiping out its data by a party calling itself the 'Cyber Army of the Khilafah,'" Abdurrahman wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday.

The hackers managed to take down the publicly-available page for the SOHR, replacing it with a photo that showed Abdurrahman kneeled in an orange jump suit before an IS-styled militant brandishing a knife. They included a photo of the IS flag, and links to Dabiq, the militant's official magazine.

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A screenshot of the hacked site, photo via Telesur

A message written by the hackers reads: "In a spectacular and unique surprise attack, the Cyber Army of the Khilafah broke into the computer systems of SOHR...seized control of its websites, destroying it, and wiping out data. Due to the damage caused and great loss of data, the SOHR organization has decided to close its gates and instead advises its visitors to follow up on the latest news and events by following the Islamic State's official media."

Obviously, Abdurrahman was not directing his followers to read pro-IS media. Instead, his Facebook statement was marked by defiance.

"The threats we have received, whether from Bashar al- Assad regime, its Arab and regional allies or from 'Islamic State' [and] its supporters, [or] Islamist factions supported by one of Syria's neighboring countries, are not going to deter us from continuing our struggle in order to reach to the state of democracy, freedom, justice, and equality; the state that ensure the rights of all the components of the Syrian people without any sectarian, religious and ethnic discrimination," Abdurrahman wrote.

He writes that the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacker front for the Assad government, had also made efforts to take down the SOHR system in an attack earlier this year, in February, after SOHR published details of civilian deaths caused by government air raids.

Even while the SOHR English and Arabic websites were down, Abdurrahman continued to publish reports, photos, and videos to his Facebook page. He, and his sources, reported on numerous clashes throughout Syria, a German kickboxer that was fighting alongside IS who may have been executed after trying to leave, and about government shelling in Damascus province.

SOHR estimates the death toll related to the Syrian conflict is 320,000.

"They will not be able to gag us as well as our heart beats," he writes. "Let them know, if they could kill Rami Abdurrahman there are more than 230 other Rami Abdurrahman who are going to continue his career."

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling