World briefs – June 23

British police filed charges Wednesday against a teenager suspected of involvement in cyberattacks on the CIA website.

Teen charged with hacking

LONDON — British police filed charges Wednesday against a teenager suspected of involvement in cyberattacks on the CIA website.

Ryan Cleary, 19, has been charged with five offences under the Computer Misuse Act, police said.

One of the charges relates to bringing down the website of Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency — the U.K.’s FBI equivalent — using a flood of traffic, in what is known as a “distributed denial of service” attack.

Cleary is suspected of having ties to the Lulz Security hacking collective, which has recently targeted Sony, the CIA website and the U.S. Senate computer system.

British police had said Tuesday that a computer seized following Cleary’s arrest was being examined specifically for Sony data.

All of the charges announced Wednesday are U.K. related and it was not known if the FBI also planned to file charges.

Lulz, which has used its Twitter account as a platform to taunt victims and announce cyber coups, has dismissed speculation Cleary was involved in its operations.

The group said that while it had used Cleary’s servers, he was “at best, mildly associated with” Lulz.

Although little is known about Lulz, hacker collectives are typically loose networks with diffuse supporters in more than one location, so an arrest could do little to bring down an organization and even encourage supporters to carry on a group’s cause.

The charges against Cleary date to events as far back as Oct. 29 — when the teenager is accused of attacking the website of the British Phonographic Industry. An attack on the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry followed just one month later, police said.

The timing of those two attacks appears linked to a hacking operation dubbed “Operation Payback,” led by a group of hackers known as Anonymous, which targeted music sites worldwide.

Lulz and Anonymous recently teamed up, calling for a united hacker effort to attack any government or agency that “crosses their path.”

Cleary has been linked to Anonymous in the past. He appears to have had a rift with the powerful and shadowy group of hackers.

In what was called “retaliation” for leaking IP’s of Anonymous members online, someone with apparent links to the group posted Cleary’s personal details on various websites — including his address, phone numbers, chat screen names and email addresses.

Those details were reposted in multiple places following news of Cleary’s arrest and suggestions the teen was tied to Lulz.

British police said he will appear in London court on Thursday to face the charges.


Life sentences for Bahrain activist spark outrage

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahraini protesters poured back to the streets Wednesday after a security court sentenced eight Shiite activists to life in prison in the latest blow by the Western-backed kingdom to cripple the biggest Arab Spring opposition movement in the Gulf.

The fast and angry reaction to the verdicts — the most significant display of unrest in weeks — underscored the volatility in the island nation after four months of unrest and raised questions about whether any credible pro-reform leaders will heed calls by the Sunni monarchy to open talks next week.

In size, Bahrain is little more than a speck off the coast of Saudi Arabia. But it draws in some of the region’s major players: hosting the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and serving as a growing point of friction between Gulf powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Security forces used tear gas to drive back hundreds of Shiite marchers trying to reach a central square in the capital Manama, which was once the hub of their protests for greater rights. In other Shiite areas, protesters gathered in the streets but were held back by riot police. No injuries were reported.

Bahrain has allowed two major rallies this month by the main opposition party, but the confrontations Wednesday were among the biggest challenges to security forces since martial law-style rule was lifted June 1.

Shiites account for 70 per cent of Bahrain’s population of some 525,000, but claim they face systematic discrimination such as being barred from top government and political posts.

The protests — claiming at least 31 lives since February — have put U.S. officials in the difficult position of both denouncing the violence and standing by Bahrain’s rulers and their call for dialogue.

In response, opposition groups have increased demands that include an end to the political trials and withdrawal of a Saudi-led regional force helping prop up Bahrain’s ruling family.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was “concerned about the severity” of the sentences and the use of the military-linked security courts. He noted that President Barack Obama said in May that “such steps are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens.”

“We continue to urge the Bahraini government to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, conducted in full accordance with Bahrain’s international legal obligations, and to create the conditions for a meaningful, inclusive and credible dialogue,” he said.

Bahrain’s government said in statement late Wednesday that the convicted activists were responsible for “bringing the country to the brink of total anarchy” with a wave of marches and sit-ins this year.

“Today’s sentencing sends a message that law and order will be preserved,” the statement said, pledging to guard against “attempts to overthrow the regime.”


Outspoken Chinese artist out of detention

BEIJING — Renowned artist Ai Weiwei, the most high-profile target of a sweeping crackdown on activists in China, returned home late Wednesday after nearly three months in detention. Looking tired and thinner, he said the conditions of his release meant he could not talk more.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Ai confessed to tax evasion, accusations his family had long denied and which activists had denounced as a false premise for detaining him. He has spoken out strongly against the ruling Communist Party, and his family and supporters say he was being punished for speaking out about the communist leadership.

Ai, who had been taken away on April 3, walked through the gate of his suburban home studio shortly after 11 p.m. with his mother and wife. He said his health was fine and thanked reporters for their support outside his studio, but said he could not speak further.

“I’m sorry I can’t (talk), I am on probation, please understand,” Ai said, speaking in English.

The conditions appeared to extend also to Ai’s family, although his mother told reporters she was relieved to see him again. “I’m so happy that my son is back,” Gao Ying said.

The outspoken artist’s detention had sparked an international outcry, with the United States and other countries saying it was a sign of China’s deteriorating human rights situation.

That international condemnation, along with Ai’s party connections as the son of one of China’s most famous modern poets, had convinced authorities to strike a deal with Ai on his release, said Jerome Cohen, a top expert on Chinese law at New York University.

“As often happens with sensitive cases, it was too hot to handle and they had to find a way out,” Cohen.

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