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In a Pastebin post uploaded Tuesday, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters said that the main copy of a film that mocks the founder of Islam had been removed from YouTube, where it had racked up 17.1 million views.
"The al-Qassam cyber fighters lauds this positive measure of YouTube and on this basis suspends his operation and plans to give a time to Google and U.S. government to remove the other copies of film as well," according to the post. "During the suspension of Operation Ababil, no attack to U.S. banks would take place by al-Qassam cyber fighters."
[ Want the latest on online bank attacks? Read Bank Attacker Iran Ties Questioned By Security Pros. ]
The group previously promised to continue its attacks pending the "erasing of that nasty movie," or for at least the next year. The movie in question is "Innocence of Muslims," a film that mocks the founder of Islam. A 13-minute clip of the film was uploaded to YouTube in September, and blamed for triggering riots across the Middle East after clips of the film were featured in local newscasts.
The al-Qassam cyber fighters have blamed both the United States and the "Zionist Regime" both for creating the film and then failing to remove it upon being threatened. In reality, many copies of the film have been uploaded to YouTube, which is owned by Google. As a private company, Google is largely free to legally follow any terms of service that it sets, and had previously declined to remove the video on public safety grounds, at least in the United States. But Google did block the film in countries with large Muslim populations -- including Egypt, India and Libya -- to comply with local laws or avoid offending users. "What's OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere," said a statement released by Google in September. "This video -- which is widely available on the Web -- is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube."
Other copies of the film, however, now trigger this warning screen: "The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised." Users are given the option to continue to the film, or cancel their request.
But the removal of the main copy of Innocents of the Muslims -- the related link now resolves to a page that says, "This video has been removed by the user" -- begs the question: Who requested its removal? Google, which owns YouTube, declined to verify if the video had been removed by the account holder, who had been listed as "Sam Becile."
"It is our policy not to comment on individual videos or users," said a Google spokeswoman via email. Per Google's guidelines, the Removing Videos from YouTube help page notes, "You can only remove videos that you have uploaded yourself," although it does allow that some videos might be excised for public safety or copyright reasons.
The film has been attributed to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who's also used the name Sam Becile in media interviews. Nakoula is reportedly a Christian who's originally from Egypt. After the film's uploading to YouTube, Nakoula appeared in court on charges that he'd violated the terms of his 2010 conviction for banking fraud. After serving 21 months in prison, Nakoula had been released on bail, which included the condition that he not use a computer unless under the supervision of his probation officer.
At least one of the actors in the film subsequently sued the film's producers -- including Nakoula -- as well as YouTube, alleging that the producers "intentionally concealed the purpose and content of the film," which in its final version portrays the Muslim prophet Muhammad as both a killer and a pedophile. But according to one lawsuit, filed by actress Cindy Lee Garcia, the film had been billed as a "historical Arabian Desert adventure" called Desert Warrior, and contained no reference to religion or sexual content. The film's actors have also alleged that their words were changed via overdubbing, after filming.
Besides riots, the film apparently also triggered the long-running Operation Ababil campaign of DDoS attacks against U.S. banks. But the YouTube takedown of one copy of the movie apparently caused the group to halt attacks planned this week against 10 U.S. banks, following what it said was a series of attacks last week against these 26 U.S. banks: "Wells Fargo, BoA, PNC, CapitalOne, Citibank, HarrisBank, Huntington, Zions Bank, Regions F.C., J.M. Chase, BB&T, Key, Union bank, Comerica, 5/3, FirstCitizens, CitizenBank, UMPQUABANK.COM, Peoples U.F., UFCU, BBVACompass, UMB, PATELCO, M&T BANK, BankOfTheWest and Synovus F.C."
Many banks that have been targeted by the group's attacks haven't confirmed every apparent surge in attack traffic or website disruption. But in recent weeks, banking website users have reported apparent disruptions -- via the Sitedown website -- involving the websites of Bank of America, Fifth Third Bank and Wells Fargo, among other financial institutions. Obviously, the group's DDoS reprieve is good news for targeted banks, but the group is still demanding that other versions of the movie hosted on YouTube be blocked, including four copies on YouTube that collectively have over 9 million views, among other versions, including full-length features. "All of them needed to be removed," said the group. "Meanwhile, we will control the situation constantly and closely and will adopt the correct decision according to the future circumstances."
How might those copies be removed? Per Google's guidelines, while the main copy of Innocents of the Muslims has been taken down, triggering the removal of all other copies would still require the copyright holder -- presumably, Nakoula -- to issue a formal takedown request with Google.
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