Two days ago, I blogged for The Huffington Post UK detailing the April 23rd cyber-attacks which were launched by the so-called "Syrian Electronic Army" (SEA) against the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News Channel.
As I couldn't get hold of anyone from the so-called SEA at the time, I ended the round-up wondering whether this "army" is, in-fact, just another "arm" of the Assad Regime (as their cyber-attacks are said to be too sophisticated to be done by amateurs), or indeed an independent group of Anonymous-like online activists who could be... anyone, anywhere.
Only a few hours after the piece was published , the answers emerged in front of me via Twitter, where I noticed an interesting interaction to the round-up by a particular tweep whose handle carried the Syrian Electronic Army acronym (SEA).
I made contact requesting an interview; he responded by "following" me insinuating that he wanted to resort to a private message exchange; it was then that he I realised that I was communicated with a member of the Special Operations Department (SoD) of the so-called SEA.
"THE PRO" - as he likes to be named - requested that we do the interview over Gmail Chat, I accepted.
(A screen-grab of parts of my Gmail-Chat interview with THE PRO)
Now having read the memoirs of Egyptian online activist Wael Ghonim, I knew that Gmail chat was among the preferred options for communication as, when combined with an IP changing programme such as TOR, makes tracking the person you are talking to - literary - virtually impossibly (not that I would know how to do it anyway).
Although THE PRO declined to offer his real name for safety reasons (which he explains in part II of this interview, to be posted tomorrow); He reveals that he is a Syrian living in Syria.
THE PRO also reveals not only a member, but actually "a leader" of this virtual army of "thousands of activists", who share the same political positions and "reject the onslaught of information and distortion of facts happening in Syria".
However, before I go on detailing - over two consecutive blog posts - what was discussed during the interview, I wish to state the following:
An independent verification of the identity of THE PRO as one of the leaders of SEA wasn't attainable; however he has provided enough confidential "insider" information to support his story. He has also provided a number of exclusive images, such as - but not limited to - the hacked control panel of Al-Arabiya's Twitter account below
(A screen-grab of the hacked control-panel of Al-Arabiya's 'Breaking News' Twitter account which was sent by THE PRO )
Attack on Al-Arabiya
When asked to confirm if SEA had really attacked Al-Arabiya he confirms that the group was behind the cyber-attacks of April 23rd. However, he says that the battle isn't with this Saudi-owned channel alone, but with the Qatari Al-Jazeera as well anyone who seeks to distort facts about what is going on in Syria.
For context purposes, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have led the way in criticising the Assad Regime's handling of the 2011 pro-Democracy demonstrations which swept Syria.
Indeed, many Assad-loyalists perceive Saudi and Qatari media outlets as biased mouth-pieces of their respective governments, seeking only to place more pressure on Damascus.
"It (Al-Arabiya) said unreal number about killed people in Syria... it doesn't said a word about the Pro-Assad demonstrations", he explains.
I stop him there and say that these channels are not coming up with the numbers themselves; "the UN is saying that are 9000 people killed, Al-Arabiya is reporting what the UN Is saying, so is the UN also wrong?", I asked him.
"The story is dodgy at best, but more importantly it ignores key facts like the 3,000 dead Syrian soldiers... they didn't commit suicide!" he replies adding that there are "thousands of civilians killed by the armed groups and the fundamentalists".
During the conversation, he also shares a number of videos which he says are proof of the biased reports Al-Arabiya and others are broadcasting.
One of the shared videos merely suggests that Al-Arabiya got the job-title of one of the regime's "martyrs" wrong, referring to him as the "Manager" of Chemistry Faculty at Homs University, when in fact he was the "deputy manager".
Another video shared was criticising Al-Jazeera for saying that on 29 January 2012, Damascus's Abbassiyyin Square was occupied by the armed protesters; the video suggests otherwise.
THE PRO also shared a video which contained an in-depth analysis produced by Dunya Television (a newly launched privately-owned pro-Assad local channel) suggesting that Al-Arabiya resorted to photo-shopping images as well as lifting footage from recent protests in Bahrain and portraying them as if they occurred in Syria.
(Report produced by Syria's Dunya TV suggested image-doctoring and false reporting by Al-Arabiya)
Asked regarding what one commentator told the Financial Times (FT) earlier today about SEA being aided by a possible Syrian Regime supporter inside Al-Arabiya; THE PRO simply responds "haha, No!", thus denying any infiltration of the Dubai-based Saudi-owned news broadcaster.
He does, on the other hand, specify that SEA has "thousands of members both inside and outside Syria".
For his part, Mazen Hayek - the official spokesperson of Al-Arabiya's mother company, MBC Group - declined to comment on the content of SEA's claims of the channel's bias.
However an authorised source within the group said that the claims resemble a "typical attempt" to "blame on the media".
The source notes that "the killing, injuring and mutilating of the tens of thousands in Syria was not caused by any media outlet", adding that the media's job is simply to uncover wrongs and reflect that the true.
"In all cases media outlets and journalists are victims of conflicts and not instigators, thus calling upon all parties in conflicts to respect safety in journalism and protect journalists for which ever outlet they may belong to", concludes the source within Al-Arabiya.
Al-Arabiya, like other international news channels are banned from reporting on-the-ground in Syria and since the regime's handling of last year's pro-democracy demonstrations has escalated to the current crisis, many journalist who have tried to cover the situation were killed on duty.
For his part, THE PRO vows that SEA will continue waging cyber-war against all those who "distort" what he sees to be "the truth" in Syria.
In Part 2 (to be posted tomorrow): THE PRO talks about SEA financing, management and operations as well as fallen comrades who he claims have been kidnapped, tortured and killed by anti-regime activists.