Taliban websites, which conveyed the victorious insurgents’ official messages in five languages to Afghans and the world at large, abruptly went offline on Friday, suggesting an attempt to suppress them.
However, it is not immediately clear why the Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, English and Dari language websites went offline on Friday. They had been shielded by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based content delivery network and denial-of-service protection provider.
Cloudflare has not responded to emails and phone calls asking for comments on the development, first reported by the Washington Post. The Cloudflare shield prevents the public from knowing who exactly is hosting the websites.
Also on Friday, popular encrypted messaging service WhatsApp removed a number of Taliban groups, according to Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremism.
The website disappearance may only be temporary as the Taliban put new hosting arrangements in place. But the reported removal of the WhatsApp groups followed the lockdown of Taliban accounts by Facebook, the service’s parent company, Tuesday after the US-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban.
WhatsApp spokeswoman Danielle Meister did not confirm the removal, but referred The Associated Press to a statement the company released earlier this week saying it was “obliged to comply with US sanctions laws. This includes blocking accounts that appear to be official Taliban accounts. “
Katz said via email that she hoped the removal of the Taliban websites was just a first step in reducing their online presence.
In contrast to the Taliban 20 years ago, who drove the US from power in Afghanistan, today’s Taliban are immensely media-savvy and their online infrastructure “inspired and mobilized” al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamist groups, said Katz.
“Tech companies should do everything possible to resolve this issue as soon as possible as the group’s online presence is fueling a newly encouraged jihad movement around the world,” she added.
Twitter hasn’t removed any Taliban accounts and the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has more than 300,000 followers there. The company announced Tuesday that as long as such accounts adhere to their rules – including not inciting or glorifying violence – they will remain in place.
Like Facebook, Google’s YouTube views the Taliban as a terrorist organization and forbids it to keep accounts.
The Taliban are not on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the US has imposed sanctions on them.