Web vigilantes attack Scientology website

Washington, USA - A shadowy internet group has succeeded in taking down a Scientology website after effectively declaring war on the Church and calling for it to be destroyed.

The group, which goes by the name of Anonymous, is a disparate collection of hackers and activists. It called for a wave of attacks against Scientology after accusing the Church of "campaigns of misinformation" and "suppression of dissent." At least one Scientology website was still down this morning.

The group also claims to have stolen a number of "secret documents" from the Church's database, which it says are now circulating on file-sharing networks.

A spokesman for the Church of Scientology, which appears to have resurrected some sites, was quoted as saying that the Church was not the "right target" for such attacks. "These types of people have got some wrong information about us," the spokesman said.

Anonymous, which has spearheaded attacks against other websites in the past, called on its members to rise up against the Church after a video of Tom Cruise - one of the most high-profile Scientologists - leaked on the internet last week.

The video, in which the Hollywood actor was seen extolling the virtues of Scientology, was reportedly taken down from some sites after the Church claimed that it violated copyright.

In response, the group - which calls itself an "internet hate machine" - set up a website to co-ordinate a string of attacks using phone, internet and fax methods, which it called 'Project Chanology'.

The website asked members to bombard the Church's website with hits so that it would collapse - a technique known as a 'denial of service' attack, as well as exploit to vulnerabilities in the site using sophisticated hacking techniques.

Anonymous also encouraged members to harass the Church with phone calls, send so-called 'black faxes' to use up ink, and use a method called 'Google bombing', where the word 'Scientology' is linked to other terms such as 'dangerous' and 'cult' so that people entering the search term 'scientology' get skewed results.

In a video posted on YouTube, which has now been watched more than 600,000 tiomes, the group says: "With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who have come to trust you as leaders has been made clear to us.

"Anonymous has therefore decided that your organisation should be destroyed, for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind, and for our own enjoyment.

"We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us."

Security experts monitoring the attacks said that the Church's servers were not likely to suffer for more than a couple of days, and that the attacks were "amateur by hacking standards."

"It's a bit like the internet equivalent of kicking in a phone box," one said. "It's not that professional. In the forums where they're discussing it, some are wondering whether it will be possible to trace what they're doing."

The Church of Scientology, which is known for being litigious, has always vigorously defended itself in the wake of attack, and points to the free choice of adults who join, as well as its efforts to help people with criminal records.

A spokesman was not immediately available for comment.