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Iraq arrests hacker, sparking deluge of attacks on websites

Activists break into Iraqi government websites after Hussein Mahdi is arrested for attacking national security service's internet portal
The Iraqi government used Mahdi's accounts to warn against further attacks (AFP)

An Iraqi activist has been arrested for hacking the national security service's website and posting a message criticising it, but his detention has inspired further hacks calling for his release.

Hussein Mahdi had previously targeted other Iraqi government websites to air grievances against the authorities, which have now responded in kind with posts on his social media accounts.

"Not caring about the lives of the people is one of the most important reasons for the destruction of this country," Mahdi wrote on the agency's webpage.

He specifically criticised the agency's alleged reliance on Facebook for intelligence information as well as the monitoring of Friday prayers and of Shia mosques.

The hack came soon after a suicide bombing ripped through a popular Baghdad ice-cream shop earlier this week, although it was unclear if the failure to prevent the attack inspired Mahdi's actions.

The national security service said Mahdi is accused of "hacking its website and other official sites".

After his detention, a message telling citizens that "the national security service is your service" and that "attempting to hack its website is in the interest of the Dawaesh and the enemies of Iraq" appeared on Mahdi's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

An official from the agency said that it posted the messages on Mahdi's social media accounts after confiscating his phone.

But his detention did not have the preventative effect that the agency might have hoped: the websites of the ministries of housing and construction, municipalities, youth and sports and Basra University were subsequently hacked.

"The goal of the hacking is not sabotage" but rather to call for Mahdi's release, posts on the hacked websites said.

"Dawaesh" is a pejorative term for members of the Islamic State group, the Sunni Muslim organisation that Iraq is battling in the northern city of Mosul and other areas.

Mahdi, however, is a member of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority, which IS has frequently targeted in bombings and other attacks.