LIBREVILLE, Gabon – A group of Russian hackers claimed Saturday to have shut down the website of the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in a protest at organizers holding it in Gabon, where President Ali Bongo Ondimba retained power in disputed and violent elections last year.
A person sent an email to The Associated Press claiming the group New World Hackers had "taken down" the Confederation of African Football's official website, the website of Africa's top soccer body and the site for the continent's main soccer tournament. The site CAFonline.com was not working.
African soccer officials couldn't immediately confirm if their website had been hacked. CAF spokesman Junior Binyam said he couldn't say if there were unconnected technical problems with the website or if it had been taken down, but CAF had been working on the problem for nearly two hours without success when Binyam spoke with the AP.
The purported hackers, whose claims could not be verified by the AP, said they attacked the website because the central African nation of Gabon was a "dictatorship" under Bongo and should not be hosting the tournament.
"We did this in protest against Gabon," the person claiming to be one of the hackers wrote in an email. "They are running the Africa Cup in a country where the dictator Ali Bongo is killing innocent people!"
The person said three hackers who live in Russia and go by the names Kapustkiy, Cyric and Maxie were responsible for taking the website out of action.
Bongo, who took over from his father as president of oil-rich Gabon in 2009, won re-election by a razor-thin margin in a vote last August. Opposition leader Jean Ping denounced the elections as fraudulent and clashes and deaths on the streets followed.
The buildup to the African Cup was undermined by fears that political protests would break out again during the tournament, but the first week of the cup has passed peacefully. Bongo, the president, was at the soccer stadium in the capital Libreville on Saturday to pay a visit to the Gabonese team, which plays a crucial match against Cameroon on Sunday.
Gabon is hosting the African soccer championship for the second time in five years, having co-hosted with neighboring Equatorial Guinea in 2012. It was chosen in April 2015 as a replacement for war-torn Libya.
New World Hackers have claimed responsibility for previous hacks, including one in the United States last year that affected access to Twitter, Netflix and PayPal.