May 31, 2013 at 3:08 PM ET
The Syrian Electronic Army, which claimed credit for the April hijacking of The Associated Press Twitter account with a tweet that led to the Dow Jones plummeting, is off the Web — at least for now.
The group, believed to be anonymous supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, said in a statement that its website is "no longer functional" because the Syrian Computer Society decided to "stop hosting our official website and furthermore, to refuse to host it ever again."
"We are extremely surprised," the group said in a statement on the Pastebin code-sharing site. "This happened due to reasons beyond our control and due to the weak will of some administrators of the Syrian Computer Society (SCS)."
Still, the group said, the action should prove that the SEA is not connected to the Syrian government.
The Syrian Computer Society "had been used by the western and Arab media as evidence of a link between the SEA and the Syrian government," the SEA said on Pastebin. "Its refusal to host the SEA's website proves that these alleged links, and any assertion built on them, have no basis."
Parts of the computer society's statement to the Syrian Electronic Army about it being kicked off the Web were shared, albeit in a rough English translation, saying that Syrian business sites have suffered "serious material damage to their interests."
Helmi Noman, a senior researcher with Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto who has tracked the SEA for several years, told NBC News that the recent seizure of Syrian domain names "of vital government websites is a high price to pay for supporting the SEA."
"Apparently the Syrian institutions which had been providing the SEA with technical support found it too costly to continue to do so," he said in an email.
"The recent decisions are attempts to remedy the situation. It remains to be seen whether such actions will actually result in revoking the seizure decision."
As recently as last Friday, the Syrian Electronic Army hijacked British broadcaster ITV's Twitter account, using it to make fun of Syrian rebels, while tweeting "just kidding." Other Twitter accounts that were hijacked by the SEA included Britain's Financial Times and Daily Telegraph newspaper. The SEA is still active on Twitter, with its account @Official_SEA12.
But the group's most serious Twitter hijack was April 23, when it took control of The Associated Press' Twitter account and tweeted this false message: "Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." The Dow Industrial Average briefly plunged 140 points.
In a kind of "Terminator" style of writing, the SEA said it will be back — when it finds "another hosting company that agrees to host our website."
Even without a site, researcher Noman says he thinks the group will continue to operate. "In fact, the SEA first emerged as a Facebook page in 2011. Only few weeks later it started a website," he said. "In the meantime, the group will try to find an ISP that would agree to host them. I won't be surprised if it emerges on a server in a Syrian-friendly country like Russia."