“We have received information from many sources that militants are operating spies inside Internet cafes just to find out who is browsing sites they have deemed offensive to Islam,” Iraqi Aid Association spokesperson Fatah Ahmed said. The IAA is a Baghdad-based nongovernmental aid agency.
According to Ahmed, most of the killings and abductions have happened directly after the victim leaves an Internet café.
“It is very serious because in an Islamic country in which violence is spreading on a daily basis, people search for some entertainment and it is found today only on the internet,” Ahmed said. “There are no places to go, so young people are making friends via chatrooms, which are now also being condemned by Islamic extremists.”
One victim of kidnapping and assault, university student Ibraheem Abdel-Qahar, told Al-Jazeera that he was kidnapped after leaving a café, then blindfolded, transported to what he believes was a house on the outskirts of Baghdad, and then beaten and tortured.
“They told me to take off all my clothes and handcuffed me. They started to beat me and use cigarettes to burn my legs,” Abdel-Qahar said, adding that he was beaten with an iron bar, and forced to drink chicken blood and his own urine.
Abdel-Qahar said that he was desperate, shouting questions at his abusers as to why they were assaulting him.
“After three hours of continuous torture they told me that it was because I was watching non-Muslim sites on the internet,” Abdel-Qahar said.
Following six days of torture, Abdel-Qahar said he was dropped off near his home and told that if he was found surfing adult sites again he would be killed. The perpetrators also advised him to seek salvation in the local mosque.
Armed marauders have not spared the proprietors who operate Internet cafés, either; in February, Internet café owners Fadhel Ibraheem and Youssef Ala’a were tortured and beheaded, reportedly for allowing access to adult sites in their café.
“It wasn’t my brother’s fault,” said Yehia Ala’a, the brother of Youssef. “He was just offering the computers and Internet access for people to use. The people who search for the Internet entertainment just want to have some distraction in the middle of this hell and hypocritical society.”
The violence toward Internet café patrons and proprietors has not gone unnoticed in other segments of Iraqi society. Baghdad University Professor Hussam Abdallah said that the University offers access to the Internet, but does so “on the condition that the browsing is controlled, and pornographic sites are blocked.”
“We have also prohibited online chatting,” Abdallah said. “We do not want to give extremists an excuse to attack us.”