A group of hackers claiming to be based in Russia said Saturday they had shut down the website of the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in a protest at organizers holding it in the “dictatorship” of Gabon, where President Ali Bongo Ondimba retained power in disputed and violent elections last year.
A person sent an email to The Associated Press claiming the group New World Hackers had “taken down” the Confederation of African Football’s official website, which is the website of Africa’s top soccer body and the site for the continent’s main soccer tournament.
The site CAFonline.com was not working for at least five hours on Saturday afternoon and evening.
“We did this in protest against Gabon,” the person claiming to be one of the hackers, and who called themselves Kapustkiy, wrote in an email. “They are running the Africa Cup in a country where the dictator Ali Bongo is killing innocent people!”
African soccer officials couldn’t immediately confirm if their website had been hacked. CAF spokesman Junior Binyam said he couldn’t say if there were unconnected technical problems with the website or if it had been intentionally targeted, but CAF had been working on the problem for nearly two hours without success when Binyam spoke with the AP.
The purported hackers, whose claims could not be verified by the AP, said they attacked the website because the central African nation of Gabon was a “dictatorship” under Bongo and should not be hosting the tournament.
The person said three hackers who live in Russia and go by the names Kapustkiy, Cyric and Maxie were responsible for taking the website out of action using a “DDoS attack,” where hackers flood a site with information from multiple sources, causing it to become unavailable.
“We 3 from the New World Hackers group are responsible for this,” the purported hacker wrote.
Gabon President Bongo, who took over from his father as president of the oil-rich country in 2009, won re-election by a razor-thin margin in a vote last August. Opposition leader Jean Ping denounced the elections as fraudulent and clashes and deaths on the streets followed.
The buildup to the African Cup was undermined by concerns that large political protests would break out again during the tournament. The first week of the cup has passed peacefully, although opposition groups, who have been vocal on social media, said that at least four people were arrested for peacefully protesting against Bongo’s rule during the tournament.
The president was at the soccer stadium in the capital Libreville on Saturday to pay a visit to the Gabonese team, which plays a crucial match against Cameroon on Sunday. Before Bongo’s arrival, around 50 soldiers armed with automatic rifles stood guard around the field where the team was training.
Gabon is hosting the African soccer championship for the second time in five years, having co-hosted with neighboring Equatorial Guinea in 2012. It was chosen in April 2015 as a replacement for war-torn Libya.
New World Hackers have claimed responsibility for previous hacks, including one in the United States last year that affected access to Twitter, Netflix and PayPal.
“This is a good message for the Gabonese government,” Kapustkiy wrote.