Opposition accuses Syria of ‘mental war’ after Internet blackout

Posted at 9:45 AM, Dec 02, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-02 11:45:06-05

From Amir Ahmed

(CNN) — Syria’s two-day Internet blackout was “a mental war” inflicted by the government, an opposition activist said Sunday, as service to the country was largely restored.

“So far, all areas that had Internet service before Thursday are connected,” said Alexia Jade, a spokeswoman for the opposition Damascus Media Office.

While Internet access is back, theories and concerns abound on what caused the outage.

It also sparked fears that the government is stepping up efforts to quash the uprising by crushing the flow of information and alienating the country from the outside world.

“It appears to be back to normal, but it is impossible to tell if filtering or monitoring technology was installed during the outage,” said Matthew Prince, CEO of CloudFlare, an Internet security company.

Global Web monitors said the country lost contact with the Web on Thursday, plunging into an Internet black hole.

Syria’s information minister said “terrorists” cut the cable, knocking out Web communication with other countries. The government uses the word “terrorists” to refer to rebels in the ongoing civil war, and blamed them for car bombing near a mosque in Homs that killed 15 people and wounded 24 others Sunday.

During the Syrian rebellion, anti-government fighters have routinely used the Web to transmit bloody images, including what they say are military attacks on civilians.

Rebel leaders accused the government of creating the blackout to hide its mass killings from the outside world.

“The regime knows that Internet is the main communication method for us,” Jade said. “Taking that down is almost like blinding the normal Internet users related to the revolution.”

Internet and cell phone coverage were restored Saturday to most Syrian provinces, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The same day, state media reported the Internet and communications lines were back in service in Damascus and its suburbs, blaming the outage on a malfunction in the main grid.

A Web security expert said the outage was almost certainly the work of the Syrian government.

Prince said his firm’s investigations showed that all four Internet cables linking Syria to the outside world would have had to been cut simultaneously for a whole country outage to occur.

More than 42,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict since the uprising began in March 2011, according to opposition activists. CNN cannot confirm claims by the government or the opposition because of government restrictions that prevent journalists from reporting freely within Syria.

CNN’s Faith Karimi, Samira Said and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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