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How do you start a letter to a terrorist? – Regards or Dear terrorist

By  Mark Thomas May 21, 2017

Whilst the World Wide Web brings a multitude of possibilities it also brings with it a playground for abuse. We saw the power of the negative side of the internet last week when a global cyber attack brought many organisations to their knees. Yes, we rely so much on the internet nowadays, we have just got so used to working with it, that when we don’t have it we are lost.

The National Health Service in the UK was just one of the victims of this latest cyber attack, a rather strange target for hackers as this is not an institution with bucket loads of money, in fact people rely on the internet access for health reasons. It makes you wonder just how safe our information is online. And let’s be honest we all have information online. Big Brother is watching every keystroke you make, every time your finger strikes the keyboard somebody, somewhere is watching that. This hacking story reminded me of a situation we had just last year in Dubrovnik.

International hackers attacked several websites in Croatia. And to make matters even worse they weren’t ordinary hackers (if there is such a thing) these computer wizards were terrorists, Middle East terrorists. They didn’t steal any money or snatch any information; they simply changed the homepage of the websites into a terrorist message. So when you opened the website you would see a message – something like “You have been invaded by the Super Militia your website is now ours,” and then a short video showed bombs exploding, terrorist shouting in Arabic and blasting music.

One of the websites that was hacked was the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Yes, an odd target for Middle East terrorists. A senior editor was intrigued by why they would hit the festival and asked me if I could try and find out.

So what is the first thing you do when you want to find more info on someone - yes I opened Facebook and yes I found them! So quite incredibly I now had an email address for a terrorist organisation. OK, what now? Is it a good idea to contact a group of terrorist hackers? Curiosity got the better of me.

Now whilst I have lots of experience of writing to all sorts of people and intuitions I am a virgin when it comes to contacting terrorists. How do you start a letter to a terrorist? “Dear Terrorist” – “Regards Mr. Terrorist” – “Sorry to bother you dear terrorist.” I mean you don’t want to upset the terrorist from the very start of the letter. I plumped for a simple “Regards.”

Now for the bulk of the letter, I basically wanted to find out why they had chosen the festival as a target. I tried my best to keep it as polite as possible – let’s say diplomatic. I managed to avoid any mention of Middle East politics, any mention of religion, it was polite and short. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote but I certainly didn’t use any sarcasm – I guessed that international hackers and terrorists didn’t want to be stressed out. I thought of asking if they had attacked the festival’s website because they were angry at the program, at the lack of Shakespeare. Maybe they wanted a more drama based festival and fewer concerts. And then how do you end a letter? “Best wishes in the future” – “Looking forward to meeting you” – “That you Mr. Terrorist for your co-operation.” Again I went the simple route and signed off with “Best regards.”

I wasn’t that hopeful that they would receive the letter, let alone write back. I was wrong. Within a few minutes I had a reply. This is crazy; I am now in a conversation with terrorists.

Their reply answered all my questions, and though it was a short answer it was exactly what I needed. I half expected them to sign the letter “Yours sincerely from a group of Middle East terrorists,” they didn’t instead they used a strange looking Arabic word. Disappointingly the reason they had hacked the festival’s website was that it “had very bad security measures.” It was just a random attack. They weren’t mega opera fans or mad at the lack of ballet, they had just spotted a soft target which strangely happened to be the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. I never wrote back to the group. Maybe I should have said “thank you,” to keep it polite. But I guessed the less contact with international terrorists the better. So yes the internet does work, it really does bring us closer together, even with people we really don’t want to be closer to.

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