Arab Spring: for supporters around the world, it marked that glorious season when the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East rose up against oppressive governments to reclaim their human rights. To seventeen-year-old Ali Mohammad Al-Nimr of Saudi Arabia, it marked the end of those rights, and the countdown to his eventual beheading and crucifixtion for the crime of demonstrating against the government. The government further claims that he robbed an entire police unit of uniforms and arms, single-handed.
That gruesome end to a young life was to have come earlier this week. That it has not is due at least in part to an enormous effort by Anonymous to bring awareness of the case to the rest of the world, and perhaps also to the relentless and embarrassingly successful cyberwar Anonymous has been waging on Saudi government sites for the past several days.
OpNimr launched with a YouTube video September 22nd, and hit Twitter with shortly thereafter, to huge effect. Al-Nimr remains in custody in Dammam Administrative Detective Prison outside of Riyadh, but according to his family he at least remains alive. We spoke to the main Twitter account, @OpNimr, operated by @AnonVoxi. But first, some background.
The Op is well-coordinated, with a significant Twitter following of both the @OpNimr account and the hashtag, a dedicated IRC channel, two YouTube videos, and several Pastebins laying out the goals, tactics, and targets of the operation.
The two videos have between them garnered nearly 100,000 views.
The main paste reads, in part:
Greetings from Anonymous and LevelTwo Security. It has come to our attention that the Government of Saudi Arabia has condemned to execute a 17-year-old boy named Ali Mohammed al-Nimr for his actions in anti-Government protests against them. They have thrown false charges at him such as the possession of a firearm even thou that there has been no evidence to support that claim. It is clear that the Government of Saudi Arabia simply doesn’t want activists(or the people) to expose their wrongdoings. We have already infiltrated servers belonging to the Gov’t of Saudi Arabia. TO THE GOVERNMENT OF SAUDI ARABIA: We will not allow you to slide with this act of inhumanity. Free Nimir and attacks will cease, keep up that attitude and this will just be the beginning.
The operants in OpNimr are not content with simply DDoSing websites offline; a DDoS attack does not actually penetrate the website’s databases, it merely buries a site under a flood of false traffic, with the effect of pushing it offline. The actual files remain undamaged and unaccessed.
In OpNimr, while there have been numerous TANGODOWNS (successful DDoS attacks) some participants are actively hacking Saudi government sites and dumping email exchanges, passwords, and other embarrassing information on Pastebin, Ghostbin, and other similar sites. While people are routinely prosecuted for DDoS attacks both in SA and the US (just ask the Paypal 14), actually leaking proprietary information and breaching websites is a much more serious issue, and can garner some equally serious punishment, even in countries that don’t have cruxifiction and beheading as punishments. Many Anons, of course, do not consider DDoS an “attack” at all; rather, they define it as a protest, like picketing, only with the effect that you cannot break through the picket line even if you want to. Law enforcement does not see it this way.
This tweet screenshots the Norse IPViking map of the DDoS attacks:
OpNimr hasn’t been so much a Tweetstorm as a continuous Twitter blizzard since September 25, now approaching 30,000 tweets. The #OpNimr hashtag builds off the momentum from the #FreeNimr hashtag, which predates it and refers not only to Ali but to his uncle, also imprisoned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for speaking against the government. Many in the op believe that the youngster was targeted because the government wishes to make an example of the entire family.
It is worth noting, in this context, that “government” in Saudi Arabia officially referrs to the Royal Family and their staff, but practically it also refers to the religious leaders and religious police, who control the prison system, the courts, and have the power of arrest. Earlier this week it was announced that Saudi Arabia is heading up a UN panel on Human Rights. It is also, lest any particular country get too smug, not the only government that orders the execution of minors: others are China, the Congo, Nigeria, the Sudan, and the United States.
There has been keen media interest in the op, and it has been featured in stories in IBTimes, the Daily Mirror, the Telegraph, and Hacked.com, among others, and the Avaast.org petition to stop the execution of Al-Nimr has over 100,000 signatures, and is gaining more at the rate of one every three seconds.
Media awareness has been heightened by the recent coverage of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for calling for a more liberal society, and the arrest last week of a Saudi princeling in Los Angeles, on suspicion of having attempted to force one of his household staffers to perform oral sex on him; she was rescued, naked and bleeding, by neighbors, who found her attempting to scale the 8-foot wall around the property, trying to escape. Four more women allege similar attacks by the prince.
Well, you can’t say the Saudis are not thorough.
As OpNimr mentioned, not all Anons are happy about organizers’ calls to hack, leak, dump and deface. We spoke with one experienced Anonymous campaigner who called such requests “Sabutage,” referring to Anonymous turncoat Sabu, who infamously instructed his sometimes-reluctant colleagues in LulzSec and AntiSec to go farther in their offensive actions than they themselves would have chosen to do. He’d gotten at least some of those instructions from the FBI. The felonious results can be read in his associates’ court histories, public statements, and the history books. Spoiler: it did not turn out well for anyone but the FBI.
Time will tell where Ali Mohammad Al-Nimr’s place in those books lies: whether martyred and mourned across social media or spared, even freed, as the result of worldwide outrage and more than a little cyber-inconvenience, courtesy of #OpNimr.