Terror Crackdown Leads To Cyber Cafes

RIYADH, 18 January 2005 — Would-be terrorists hoping for a free ride on the information superhighway instead are getting tangled in the World Wide Web as officials are keeping close tabs on Internet cafes and who’s who in cyberspace.

Three Internet cafes, including one located in downtown Riyadh, have been raided by security officials in a move to crack down on terrorists who have been using public cafes to exchange information, post terror messages and issue threats to organizations, government agencies and nations.

In one incident last week, several armed security officials swooped down on a cafe and questioned Saudi and expatriate employees staffing the place.

“The security officials showed me a particular mail ID and wanted to gather information about the person using that ID,” said Arif Ziauddin, manager of the cafe. He said officials also checked to see that the cafe is complying with revised government regulations issued late last year.

The new regulation states that all cafe customers should surrender their ID cards so that their names and ID numbers can be written down before accessing the Net.

Ziauddin said many terror suspects have turned to cyberspace to communicate with their accomplices since the May 12, 2003, bombings in Riyadh.

“Another cyber cafe was raided three times within a week and the security officials also detained a Saudi, who was surfing the Net at that time,” said Hassan Adlous, an Arab expat.

The crackdown on cyber cafes has intensified after the arrests of a number of people in Riyadh and Buraidah in November.

“Every now and then, security officials raid the cafes,” Adlous said. “Teef International Cafe, Khaleej Net and Al-Rawdah cafes were raided recently.”

The cyber cafe business, which is booming in the city, faces increasing scrutiny as police crush terror havens and keep watch on cafes letting youngsters surf the web.

Apart from being accessible to suspects, a large number of teens flock to cyber cafes for chatting, looking for adult sites and generally surfing for culturally unacceptable sites.

According to the rules, users under-18 must not be allowed to access the Net in cafes. Exceptions are made for those accompanied by their guardians as well as trainees and students in computer science.

Monitoring authorities claim more than 95 percent of some 400,000 blocked websites deal with pornography. The rest contain political and social subjects that violate the Kingdom’s laws and regulations.

With the Kingdom’s blocking rate set to go up, Internet service is being closely monitored, and undesirable sites are blocked by a proxy server operated by the Internet Service Unit (ISU) at the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), according to a study published recently.

In addition to detailing blocking of sexually explicit content, the ISU website lists as prohibited “pages related to drugs, bombs, alcohol, gambling and religion or Saudi laws.”

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