LONDON -- Hacktivist group Anonymous has attacked official websites of the Saudi Arabian government in protest at its plans to behead and publicly crucify a man accused of participating in demonstrations against the government and inciting others to do the same when he was only 17.
Ali Mohammad Baqir al-Nimr, who is now 21, was sentenced to death for his part in pro-democracy protests that swept through the Middle Eastern state in 2012 and 2013. The final appeal to the Saudi courts was dismissed earlier this month, and he is due to be put to death at any moment.
“Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, an innocent young teenage boy has been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and we will not stand by and watch,” Anonymous said, in a statement directed at the Saudi government as part of a campaign called Operation Nimr.
The online collective posted this message along with a video on Sept. 22 as a warning to the Saudi government and, on Sept. 26, it followed through with its threat by taking several official Saudi government websites offline.
A second video message said: “This message goes to the King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud and the Saudi Arabian Government. In the last video we demanded the release of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. It seems you have ignored our letter and video directed to you. Since you have ignored our wishes we will now take action for your ignorance.”
The group claimed responsibility for attacks against the websites of the ministry of justice, the city of Riyadh and the country's central bank, among others. As is typical in attacks carried out by Anonymous, the websites were rendered inaccessible through distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, though the websites have since come back online.
The group has posted a list of hundreds of target websites online, inviting all members of Anonymous to take them offline. The main Operation Nimr Twitter account promised an attack Sunday and, that evening, the group said: “We said there would be a “huge attack” tonight, we followed up with these claims. We will tweet tomorrow.”
We said there would be a "huge attack" tonight, we followed up with these claims. We will tweet tomorrow, God bless Ali-Nimr #OpNimr
— OpNimr (@OpNimr) September 27, 2015
It is unclear at this point what this attack was, but the group promised to post another video online Monday, which is aimed at King Salman who holds al-Nimr's life in his hands, as the final step in the process is having the death sentence ratified by him.
Human rights campaigners have accused the Saudi government of only arresting al-Nimr because he's the nephew of prominent Shi’ite campaigner, Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, who has also been sentenced to death for terrorism offenses and “waging war on God.”
In addition to the anti-government protest charges, officials claim Nimr taught others how to provide first aid. The most significant of his charges include possession of a machine gun and armed robbery. However human rights organizations claim Nimr was forced to offer a false confession while in custody and his own testimony was reportedly the only evidence brought against him.
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) September 25, 2015
“His trial was deeply flawed,” Amnesty International has said. “He was denied the most basic needs to prepare his defense, including regular access to his lawyer and a pen and paper to respond to the charges. His defense was not allowed to cross-examine key eyewitnesses and his lawyer was not informed of the dates of a number of court hearings.”
All appeals against his execution have been exhausted, and authorities can execute him without offering any prior notice to his family, Reprieve, a U.K.-based human rights organization, has said.
Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of egregious human rights violations and denying its citizens basic rights, has executed at least 175 people over the last 12 months, according to an Amnesty International report released Aug. 25.