Electronic Army's March Threatens Syrian Protests

Syria's government is quashing protest online as well as in the streets. Host Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Deb Amos in Beirut to expand on what the success of the Syrian Electronic Army means for the momentum of the opposition protests and the state of play inside Syria.

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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

That was NPR's Deborah Amos in Beirut. She joins me now to talk more about this cyber offensive. Deb, how has this affected the opposition protests in Syria? Has it really slowed their momentum any?

DEBORAH AMOS: In some ways it has. There has been a campaign of mass arrests, especially among organizers of non-violent protests. Last week, Western ambassadors, including from the U.S., went to the funeral of a guy named Gaith Mattar; 26 years old, known to hand out flowers and water to the Syrian army during demonstrations. He died in detention likely from torture. So, what you see is two trends emerging: activists are organizing these flash demonstrations - quick, out in the street, record your video; it's over in minutes. The other trend, more reports of defections in the Syrian army; organized defectors who are revolting against military units. This week, Europe imposed a seventh round of sanctions. And one company on the list is Addounia TV, which we heard in the beginning in my report, sanctioned for inciting violence in Syria.

CORNISH: Now, Deb, I get going after opposition protesters in this conflict, but I don't understand what's to be gained by hacking sites, you know, such as Oprah and Newsweek and Brad Pitt.

AMOS: Well, it's part propaganda. Now, let's take hacking Brad Pitt's website. Angelina Jolie, an actress, is also a U.N. ambassador and she visits refugee camps. So, she went to southern Turkey recently to support Syrians fleeing an army crackdown. The hacking is part warning and part accusation. But more important, this campaign tries to appeal to young Syrians who haven't joined the revolution yet. You know, we are hip, we are cool too but hacking into secure websites is a valuable skill. And there seems to be sharing of that skill between the so-called Syrian Electronic Army and the Syrian Intelligence Service in tracking and arresting activists.

CORNISH: NPR's Deborah Amos in Beirut. Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you.

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