A 24-year-old web designer has pleaded guilty to hacking the site of Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera during the recent war in Iraq.

John William Racine, from Norco, California, used forged documents to gain control of the aljazeera.net domain from hosting company Network Solutions.

Racine used the identity of Muhammed Jasim AlAli - the administrative contact for aljazeera.net - and created a Hotmail account to communicate with Network Solutions. He admitted impersonating Mr AlAli by phone and forging an identity card which he used to change the password for the Al-Jazeera account.

Racine then established a redirect from both the Arabic and English-language Al-Jazeera sites to an image of the US flag with the slogan "let freedom ring".

He also received around 300 emails sent to the aljazeera.net domain.

The US Attorney's office in Los Angeles charged him with 'wire fraud' and 'unlawful interception of an electronic communication'. Under US law, Racine could be imprisoned for up to 25 years and fined up to $500,000.

Mr Racine was investigated by FBI agents working for the Cyber Crime Division and has pleaded guilty on both counts in the hope of reducing his sentence.

However, as indicated in the plea agreement made with the Attorney's office, it is likely that Mr Racine will receive a three-year probational sentence and 1,000 hours of community service, though this will be determined by the judge when Mr Racine is sentenced on 20 October.

A spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles told dotJournalism that Mr Racine did plead guilty, as expected, in a court hearing on Tuesday 17 June. The sentence is unlikely to ban Mr Racine working on the internet in the future.

"As far as we know, his professional life is not restricted. People may choose not to employ him, but that is not dictated by the government.

"We are not aware of any other criminal history."

The Al-Jazeera Space Channel, based in Doha, Qatar, was heavily criticised by the US defence department in the Pentagon for broadcasting footage of dead US soldiers and prisoners of war. Its reporters were subsequently banned from the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, despite gaining a reputation as a credible alternative to western news.


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