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Anonymous declares war on Syrian government Web sites

Online hacktivist group blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the Internet blackout blanketing the country and vows retaliation.

Concluding that the Syrian government was responsible for the country's Internet blackout, the online hacktivist group Anonymous has announced a campaign against Syrian government Web sites hosted outside the country.

The Middle Eastern country began experiencing an Internet outage earlier today, and many people on Twitter reported that phone lines are down as well. All 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet, according to Renesys, which operates a real-time grid that continuously monitors Internet routing data.

Anonymous said it had conducted an "exhaustive analysis" of the blackout and determined that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had severed fiber-optic and coaxial cables going into Syria.

"Essentially, they have physically 'pulled the plug out of the wall,'" Anonymous said in a press release. "As we discovered in Egypt, where the dictator Mubarak did something similar -- this is not damage that can be easily or quickly repaired."

Characterizing the outage as a "desperate move by a dying regime," Anonymous said it would begin a campaign at 6 p.m. PT dubbed "Operation Syria" to remove all Web assets belonging to Assad's government hosted outside the country. The group said its first target would be servers for all Syrian embassies, beginning with the embassy in China.

The hacker collective has ratcheted up its online attacks against Middle East governments in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the group launched a hacking blitz on Israel in retaliation for air strikes on Gaza. The hacking spree also targeted retail and business sites, allegedly resulting in the defacement or shutdown of hundreds of sites. Israel's government said its Web sites logged more than 44 million hacking attempts in just a few days.

"By turning off the Internet in Syria, the butcher Assad has shown that the time has come for Anonymous to remove the last vestiges of his evil government from the Internet," Anonymous said.