Taliban websites that delivered official messages of the victorious insurgents in five languages to Afghans and the rest of the world went offline on Friday, indicating an attempt to suppress them.
However, it is not immediately clear why the Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, English and Dari-language sites went offline on Friday. They were shielded by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based content delivery network and denial-of-service protection provider.
Cloudflare has not responded to emails and phone calls to comment on the development, which was first reported by The Washington Post. The Cloudflare shield prevents the public from knowing who exactly is hosting the sites.
Also on Friday, the popular encrypted messaging service WhatsApp removed a number of Taliban groups, according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremism.
The disappearance of the websites can only be temporary as the Taliban arranges new hosting arrangements. But the reported removal of the WhatsApp groups followed the ban on Taliban accounts by Facebook, the parent company of the service, on Tuesday after the US-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban.
WhatsApp spokesperson Danielle Meister did not confirm the takedown, but referred The Associated Press to a statement the company released earlier this week that it was “mandated to comply with U.S. sanctions laws. This includes banning accounts that self-identify.” appear to represent official accounts of the Taliban.”
Katz said via email that she hoped the removal of the Taliban websites is just a first step in reducing its online presence.
Unlike the Taliban of 20 years ago who ousted the US from power in Afghanistan, today’s Taliban is immensely adept at the media and its online infrastructure “inspires and mobilizes” al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamist factions, Katz said.
“Tech companies must do what they can to get ahead of this problem as soon as possible, as the group’s online presence fuels a newly emboldened jihadist movement worldwide,” she added.
Twitter has not deleted any Taliban accounts and the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has more than 300,000 followers there. The company said Tuesday that as long as such accounts follow the rules — including not inciting or glorifying violence — they will continue to exist.
Like Facebook, Google’s YouTube views the Taliban as a terrorist organization and prohibits them from managing accounts.
The Taliban is not on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the US has imposed sanctions on it.