As Syrians continue to take to the streets in countless numbers despite a brutal five-month government crackdown on flashpoint cities across the country, regime opponents took their dissent to a particularly tech-savvy level on Sunday night.
The hacking organization “Anonymous”, a group that targeted websites of other Arab governments facing popular uprisings earlier this year, hijacked the Syrian Defense Ministry website and transmitted messages supporting the protest movement sweeping the nation.
''The world stands with you against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad,” read the first of two messages. “Know that time and history are on your side – tyrants use violence because they have nothing else, and the more violent they are, the more fragile they become.''
The message that followed was a clarion call to Syrian military personnel. In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of rifts developing within the country’s armed forces. Such claims are difficult to corroborate, however, due to the regime’s decision to ban foreign journalists from the country.
''You are responsible for protecting the Syrian people, and anyone who orders you to kill women, children, and the elderly deserves to be tried for treason…Defend your country – rise up against the regime!''
During the attack, the Defense Ministry’s website displayed the “Anonymous” logo under photos of military personnel and victims of the crackdown. The ministry’s coat of arms was also replaced by the pre-Baathist Syrian flag.
The incident comes amid escalating government assaults on protest strongholds Hama, almost 200km north of Damascus, and Deir al-Zor, a city located in Syria’s northeast Sunni heartland. In recent days, the government, dominated by the minority Alawite sect to which the Assad family belongs, has launched tank attacks on both urban centers. Each city has suffered dozens of casualties at minimum.
Hama is the site of the notorious 1982 massacre of thousands of civilians, when the elder Assad and former president, Hafez, unleashed his army to quell an Islamist uprising.
The hijacking of the Defense Ministry website also comes as international condemnation, notably from other Arab rulers who had previously remained silent, is on the rise. Saudi King Abdullah on Monday lambasted Assad's brutal approach to quashing the demonstrations.
"Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms," Abdullah said in a written statement read on Al-Arabiya satellite television. "Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss."