Libyan Rebels Tap into Gadhafi's Network to Stay Connected

By Beecher Tuttle April 13, 2011

Recognizing the importance that technology played in the political rebellion in Egypt, Col. Moammar Gadhafi was taking no chances. About a month ago, the embattled Libyan leader took half the country back to the Stone Age by shutting down their network. Without Internet and cell phone connections, Libyan rebels were forced to wave flags to communicate with each other and were unable to contact their love ones who live in other parts of the world.

However, a Libyan-American telecom executive helped to put an end to Gadhafi's plan earlier this month by hacking in to the war-torn nation's government-controlled cell phone network and re-establishing communications for the rebels, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The plan was reportedly hatched by Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive who was born in Alabama. After sketching out the idea on a napkin in March, Abushagur and his friends needed to find the millions of the dollars of equipment that was necessary to tap into Gadhafi's network.

After being turned down by Huawei, the Chinese contractor that helped build Libya's existing cell phone network, Abushagur and his team received support from compatriots in the UAE and Qatar, who helped them purchase the costly telecommunications equipment.

"The Emirates government and [its telecommunications company] Etisalat helped us by providing the equipment we needed to operate Libyana at full capacity," Faisal al-Safi, a Benghazi official, told the Journal.

After being forced to divert the equipment for a week due to security issues, the team joined a group of Libyan engineers and installed the equipment into Gadhafi's existing network. In addition, the group got their hands on a Tripoli-based database of phone numbers, which allowed them to patch in existing customers in the eastern part of Libya, according to the Journal.

The result of all the work is a new network, dubbed "Free Libyana," which has been up and running since April 2. The network allows hundreds of thousands Libyans to stay connected to the outside world. Although international calling is currently limited, free domestic calls are available to a large percentage of the nation.  

Beecher Tuttle is a TechZone360 contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

TechZone360 Contributor

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