MULTIPLE Senegalese government websites were taken offline on Friday night by a group of hackers known as Mysterious Team, who launched denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, according to a government spokesperson. The group claimed responsibility for the cyber attacks through Twitter posts using the hashtag #FreeSenegal, which is often used by campaigners highlighting alleged political repression in Senegal.
The timing of the attacks coincides with heightened political tensions in Senegal, known for being one of West Africa’s most stable democracies. Government spokesperson Abdou Karim Fofana stated that efforts were underway to restore the affected websites. While the presidency’s site was back online as of Saturday afternoon, other official sites, including those of the government and finance ministry, remained offline.
DDoS attacks overwhelm targeted servers by directing high volumes of internet traffic, causing them to go offline. The Mysterious Team, self-identified as ‘cyber warriors from Bangladesh,’ has previously conducted cyber attacks against the Ethiopian health ministry and Indian media, according to the European Repository of Cyber Incidents, an independent research consortium analysing cyber incidents.
Senegal has experienced over two years of sporadic violent protests, driven by concerns among the opposition regarding President Macky Sall’s potential bid for a third term in the upcoming February 2024 election. The opposition has also accused the government of using the judiciary to target potential challengers, such as popular opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential race. Authorities refute allegations that the ongoing legal cases against Sonko are politically motivated.
Sonko, currently facing sexual assault charges, has called for his supporters to join him in a defiant march to the capital. The verdict on his case is expected on June 1, and a guilty ruling could prevent him from running in next year’s presidential election. The case has already fuelled unrest and tarnished Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy.
The proposed march led by Sonko poses the risk of further instability in Senegal, where violent protests have occurred since his initial arrest in 2021. Sonko claims that his legal troubles are orchestrated to prevent his participation in the 2024 polls. Despite being handed a suspended prison sentence in a separate libel case, Sonko remains popular among the youth demographic and has appealed the ruling. The authorities deny any political motivations behind the ongoing legal cases.