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US indicts 2 over pro-Iran cyber-attacks after Soleimani assassination

Iranian mourners gather for the burial of top general Qasem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman on 7 January 2020 [ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images]
Iranian mourners gather for the burial of top general Qassem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman on 7 January 2020 [ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images]

The US Department of Justice has indicted two men for allegedly hacking more than 50 American websites as retaliation for the 3 January US assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

The pair, Behad Mohammadzadeh and Marwan Abusrour, were charged with one count of conspiring to cause intentional damage to a protected computer and one count of intentionally damaging a protected computer, according to the indictment.

Mohammadzadeh is thought to be a 19-year-old Iranian national, while Abusrour is believed to be a 25-year-old Palestinian man. Both men are believed to be residing in their home countries.

The two hackers, according to the indictment, attacked approximately 51 websites hosted in the US, replacing their content with pictures of Soleimani against the background of an Iranian flag with the slogan "Down with America".

Soleimani was the commander of the Iranians Quds Forces, the foreign-facing branch of the Islamic Republic's security services.

The military commander had long been designated a terrorist by the US government but was lauded by many Iranians and his assassination sent shockwaves through the Middle East.

READ: Trump says US will respond '1,000 times greater' to any attack by Iran

Mohammadzadeh and Abusrour, however, allegedly started working together in late December last year, prior to Soleimani's assassination.

Both were active hackers prior to December 2019, according to the indictment. Mohammadzadeh reportedly started hacking websites, replacing their content with pro-Iranian imagery and messaging, as early as 2018.

Meanwhile, Abusrour, who, according to the indictment, "is a self-described spammer", has been active since at least 2016. The Palestinian hacker has publicly claimed to have attacked nearly 340 websites from around the world and is reportedly involved with the illicit trade of stolen credit cards.

"These hackers are accused of orchestrating a brazen cyber-assault that defaced scores of websites across the country as a way of protesting and retaliating against the United States for killing the leader of a foreign terrorist organisation," Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston Division said in the statement.

"Now, they are wanted by the FBI and are no longer free to travel outside Iran or Palestine without risk of arrest," Bonavolonta added.

US attorney Andrew Lelling, meanwhile, said the US would "aggressively pursue, prosecute and apprehend those who use the internet to attack American interests".

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