Saudis crack down on Internet cafes to stop Al Qaida

Sunday, August 10, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has imposed new restrictions on Internet cafes in an effort to stop Islamic insurgents from planning attacks.

Saudi authorities have drafted and distributed new regulations that would require the cafes to identify and monitor users of the Internet.

Under the new rules, Internet clients must deposit their identity cards and the cafe owners must register the names and ID numbers of users. The cafes must detail the start and end of each Internet session and records must be retained for six months.

[Over the weekend, Saudi police arrested four Saudis and a Pakistani in Mecca, Middle East Newsline reported. The Saudi daily Okaz reported that the five suspects who included teenagers were accused of distributing literature around the city's mosques that sought to incite worshippers to attack the Saudi government.]

Officials said the regulations were imposed in wake of the May 12 suicide attacks by Al Qaida in Riyad. Al Qaida operatives were said to have communicated via encoded messages on the Internet.

Saudi authorities reserve the right to demand the records of Internet clients, officials. Those who violate the regulations could be subject to fines and imprisonment.

Authorities have also banned anybody under 18 from using the Internet unless accompanied by a guardian or sponsor. The regulations also restrict Internet use to those sites deemed as in accordance with Islam or Saudi security. This includes a ban on pornographic or political sites.

Last year, a Harvard University study reported that Saudi Arabia blocks about 400,000 websites, including those that deal with health and humor. The report said authorities monitor Internet use through Western systems acquired by the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology.

Officials said the Internet was used by the No. 2 Al Qaida fugitive Ali Abdul Rahman Al Ghamdi. They said Al Ghamdi, captured more than a month ago, posted messages on Islamic websites.

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