ISIS has announced it is going to shut down private internet access in Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city that functions as the extremist group’s de-facto capital, the Financial Times reports.
The move will make it harder for residents to keep in contact with the world beyond ISIS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate,” as the only Internet connections left would be accessed through ISIS-controlled internet cafes, according to activists.
Parts of northern Syria, including Aleppo, have been without access to internet since March now.
The group circulated leaflets informing internet providers they had fours days to cut off private wifi connections, according to the Daily Telegraph. “The following is obligatory on all Internet providers: the removal of Wi-Fi connections distributed outside of Internet cafés and private connections, including for Islamic State soldiers,” the leaflet read.
Activists in the region told the Financial Times they believe the jihadi group’s crackdown is motivated by a need to control the activity of the group’s own fighters. Some ISIS militants disillusioned with the group, have attempted to contact their family, representing a potential threat to the jihadists’ reputation. An internet freeze would also keep local activists, such as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, from spreading word of the group’s abuses.
According to activists, ISIS officials have been announcing this change for weeks. Most ISIS-held territory has been cut off from telecommunication systems, forcing locals to rely on satellite connections to communicate. Residents of other ISIS-controlled towns in Syria, such as Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, have reported similar difficulties.
One activist also mentioned to the Financial Times that women will be the most adversely affected by a crackdown on internet access. Mixing of genders is heavily restricted under ISIS’s interpretation of Islamic law and most internet cafes are frequented by men.
How ISIS wants to block access
ISIS has an easy means of completely cutting off internet access, Doug Madory,
head of internet research division at Dyn, told Business Insider: “For the cities that ISIS controls, they could certainly disconnect the local populace completely by severing critical fibre optics.”
But that would also cut the militants themselves off from the internet, a move which would deny ISIS a the opportunity win over sympathizers online.
More targeted cutoffs might require the complicity — or the intimidation or takeover — of internet service companies. According to Madory, any prospective “ban on Wifi and private Internet connections is being implemented by local providers.”
One activist told the Financial Times that ISIS likely would not ban all internet as it is the only way to communicate. And since many people have their own satellite link-ups, it is going to be difficult for ISIS to shut off contact with the outside world even if it did sever Raqq’s fibre-optic network.
ISIS also might not go too far in restricting internet access out of fear of provoking a local backlash: The activist also told the Financial Times that ISIS probably wouldn’t enact stricter measures as it would anger locals as well as its own fighters.
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