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Jihad website AqsaTube goes offline

By Crispin Thorold
BBC News, Jerusalem

AqsaTube screenshot
The identity of the creators of AqsaTube remain a mystery

YouTube has been one of the greatest successes of the internet age.

Millions of people use the video-sharing website every day and it has spawned hundreds of imitators.

One of the most recent is AqsaTube - a site with a particular focus on Palestinian militant videos.

Many appear to have been produced by Hamas - the militant group which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 - as well as groups like the al-Quds brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad faction.

They feature masked men firing rockets to the sounds of martial Arabic music.

Also on the menu are videos recorded by suicide bombers before they carried out their attacks, including Mervat Massoud, who injured an Israeli soldier and killed herself during an attack in Beit Hanoun in November 2006.

Mysterious origins

The website came to public attention in Israel after a recent report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre which has close ties to the country's intelligence community.

Screenshot of AqsaTube
French web hosting firm OVH has taken the site offline

It says AqsaTube was launched by Hamas, a claim denied by the Palestinian movement.

Hamas runs a television station a similar name, al-Aqsa TV, which AqsaTube links to.

"I have seen the AqsaTube site once," said Samir Abu Mahsen head of production of al-Aqsa TV. "But it does not belong to al-Aqsa TV".

The website does include material from groups ideologically opposed to Hamas, including videos by al-Sahab, which produces propaganda on behalf of al-Qaeda.

So if Hamas are not behind the site, who is?

A search on whois.net, an internet service which identifies owners of domain names, leads on to godaddy.com, which says AqsaTube is registered with Domains by Proxy, Inc., an American company which protects domain owners' names.

Godaddy.com also lists business information for AqsaTube, including a PO Box number in Dubai and a mobile phone number, which was answered by a man who said he was an Indian builder in Dubai.

He appeared to know little about the internet and nothing about Palestinian militant movements.

Incongruous adverts

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre claims the site is listed under the name of Abu Nasser Skander from Dubai and its internet service provider is French firm OVH.

Screenshot of AqsaTube
AqsaTube appears to mimic YouTube in almost every respect

OVH initially denied hosting AqsaTube, but later confirmed that the website had been hosted by them and had now been taken offline.

Although much of the content was sympathetic to Palestinian militant groups, the website ran advertising for some Israeli companies.

In the UK, the advertisements included some decidedly un-Islamic themes, including internet gambling and breast enhancement surgery.

Interestingly, militant videos were not the most popular content on Aqsa Tube.

According to the site, the most viewed clips were episodes of Bab al-Hara, an enormously popular Arabic soap opera, which is broadcast every Ramadan.


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