Taliban websites that delivered official messages from the victorious insurgents to Afghans and the world at large in five languages went offline abruptly on Friday, indicating an effort to try to crack down on them.
However, it is not immediately clear why the Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, English and Dari language sites went offline on Friday. They were protected by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based content delivery network and denial of service protection provider.
Cloudflare did not respond to emails and phone calls asking for comments on the development, which was first reported by The Washington Post. The Cloudflare shield prevents the public from knowing exactly who is hosting the sites.
Also on Friday, the popular encrypted messaging service WhatsApp removed several Taliban groups, according to Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism.
The disappearance of the sites may only be temporary, as the Taliban guarantees new hosting arrangements. But the alleged removal of WhatsApp groups followed the banning of Taliban accounts by Facebook, the service’s parent company, on Tuesday after the US-backed Afghan government fell into Taliban hands.
WhatsApp spokeswoman Danielle Meister would not confirm the removal but referred to the Associated Press a statement the company issued earlier this week saying it was “obliged to comply with US sanctions laws. That includes banning accounts. who seem to represent themselves as official Taliban accounts. .”
Katz said in an e-mail that he hopes the removal of Taliban sites will be just a first step in decreasing their online presence.
Unlike the Taliban of 20 years ago, which the US ousted from power in Afghanistan, today’s Taliban are immensely media savvy and their online infrastructure “inspires and mobilizes” al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic factions, Katz said.
“Tech companies must do what they can to overcome this problem as quickly as possible, as the group’s online presence is spurring a jihadist movement around the world,” he added.
Twitter has not removed Taliban accounts and the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has more than 300,000 followers there. The company indicated on Tuesday that as long as such accounts abide by its rules – including not inciting or glorifying violence – they will remain active.
Like Facebook, Google’s YouTube considers the Taliban a terrorist organization and prohibits them from operating accounts.
The Taliban is not on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the US has imposed sanctions on it.