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Wednesday, 21 June, 2000, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Suspected hacker arrested in Dubai
Dubai's telecoms tower:
Dubai's telecoms tower: network was inflitrated
By Middle East correspondent, Frank Gardner

A young European computer programmer has been arrested in the United Arab Emirates on charges of hacking into the local internet network and causing two weeks of chaos.

Local press reports named the man as Lee Ashour Syed and said he was British.

Etisalat logo
Still a state monopoly
The problems for the UAE's only ISP, Etisalat, have come at an embarrassing time for the authorities.

And they have given ammunition to local critics of the state's monopoly role over telecommunications.

The identity and nationality of the man suspected of bringing chaos to the ISP have yet to be officially confirmed, but it is known that he is a European who worked as a computer programmer for an IT company in Dubai.

Gang assault

The local Arabic press says that the man, who is being questioned by special technical police team, is British.

But the British Embassy in Dubai says it has not so far received any requests for consular help.

He is suspected of being part of a gang of hackers who have penetrated the local internet network, causing it to crash for long periods over the past 16 days.

The Dubai police are taking the case very seriously.

The local police chief, General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, has been quoted in local newspapers as saying that an example might be made of the suspected hacker to deter other acts of computer piracy.

Aspirations

The case comes at an embarrassing time for the Dubai Government, which is busy promoting itself as the region's internet capital.

Dubai
Dubai is the Gulf's commercial capital
In October it is due to open a $200m Internet City, where banks and businesses are being encouraged to set up offices.

Internet usage in the United Arab Emirates is one of the highest in the Arab world.

Dubai's Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has ordered all government departments to be able to conduct their business online.

He is also encouraging private businesses to do the same, building the Emirates' reputation as a local pioneer of e-commerce.

But the recent disruptions to the UAE's internet services have highlighted its shortcomings.

Business fears

Surprisingly, in a country where the number of subscribers doubled last year to over 120,000, there is only one ISP.

That ISP is also the local telephone company, called Etisalat, and its monopoly has started to worry local businessmen.

They believe that its control over the communications market makes the country's internet service vulnerable to sabotage.

They say the recent disruptions prove their point.

But officials at Etisalat disagree.

They have been quoted in Wednesday's papers as saying that, if hackers decided to attack the network, then it would be affected regardless of the number of ISPs.

To support their case, they point out that even the Pentagon's computer networks in America have been successfully hacked into.

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30 Oct 99 | Middle East
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