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   Its back up now, but the New York Times website was unavailable for several hours Tuesday after an apparent hack attack.  Several people reported being redirected to a Syrian web domain when they tried to access the paper's website.  

   Marc Frons, chief information officer for The New York Times Company told the paper that the attack was carried out by a group known as "the Syrian Electronic Army, or someone trying very hard to be them."  The Syrian Electronic Army is a group of hackers who support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.   The group attacked the company’s domain name registrar, Melbourne IT. 

   The S.E.A. also hacked the administrative contact information for Twitter’s domain name registry records and then tweeted about it.  Twitter reports that the attack affected one image server and that the problem has been corrected.

   On August 15, the group attacked The Washington Post’s Web site through a third-party service provided by a company called Outbrain. The S.E.A. also tried to hack CNN and succeeded in disrupting The Financial Times in May.

   The NY Times reports that this is the same group that had attacked Twitter accounts for dozens of outlets including The Associated Press. Those attacks caused the stock market to plunge after the group planted false tales of explosions at the White House.

 
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military stands ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday as the United States prepared to formally declare that chemical weapons had been used in the Syrian civil war.

U.S. officials said the growing intelligence pointed strongly toward Bashar Assad's government as the culprit — a claim Assad called "preposterous."

The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago. As of Tuesday morning, officials said President Barack Obama had not yet decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, a move he said last year would cross a red line.

The Obama administration has already said there is "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria last week. Two administration officials said the U.S. could make public a more formal determination of chemical weapons use that pins the blame on Assad as early as Tuesday.

A third U.S. official said some of the evidence includes signals intelligence — information gathered from intercepted communications. The U.S. assessment is also based on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed and witness accounts.

The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.

It's unlikely international military action would begin before Thursday. That's when British Prime Minister David Cameron will convene an emergency meeting of Parliament where lawmakers are expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for a British response to the chemical weapons attack.

International support was growing. In Paris, President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that France is "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents." And the Arab League, a 22-member body dominated by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for justice, laying blame for the attack on the Syrian government.

Officials said the international community was considering action that would punish Assad for deploying deadly gases, not sweeping measures aimed at ousting the Syrian leader or strengthening rebel forces. The focus of the internal debate underscores the scant international appetite for a large-scale deployment of forces in Syria and the limited number of other options.

The most likely military response would involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets. The White House is also studying legal justifications for taking such steps without approval from the United Nations, where Russia is certain to block action at the Security Council.

Italy, meanwhile, is insisting that any strike should be authorized by the Security Council.

Hagel told BBC television on Tuesday that the Defense Department has "moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take."

The Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea within range of targets inside Syria. The U.S. also has warplanes in the region.

"We are ready to go," Hagel said.

Hagel said "to me it's clearer and clearer" that the Syrian government was responsible, but that the Obama administration was waiting for intelligence agencies to make that determination.

Hagel was interviewed during a visit to the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei. While there, Hagel spoke by phone about Syria with his counterparts from Britain and France. Hagel's press secretary, George Little, said, said Hagel "conveyed that the United States is committed to working with the international community to respond to the outrageous chemical attacks."

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were also making the case for action to counterparts around the world. While the president has not spoken publicly about the deepening crisis this week, Kerry on Monday issued a blistering rebuke of the Assad regime's actions.

"By any standard, it is inexcusable and — despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured — it is undeniable," he told reporters at the State Department Monday.

Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons, was defiant. In an interview published Tuesday on the website of the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, Assad accused the U.S. and other countries of "disdain and blatant disrespect of their own public opinion; there isn't a body in the world, let alone a superpower, that makes an accusation and then goes about collecting evidence to prove its point."

The Syrian leader warned that if the U.S. attacks Syria, it will face "what it has been confronted with in every war since Vietnam: failure."

The Obama administration was moving ahead even as a United Nations team already on the ground in Syria collected evidence from last week's attack. The U.S. said Syria's delay in giving the inspectors access rendered the U.N. investigation meaningless and that the Obama administration had its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons use.

The U.N. team came under sniper fire Monday as it traveled to the site of the Aug. 21 attack and on Tuesday delayed a second inspection. A U.S. official said the U.N. team's delay would not affect the Obama administration's timeline for releasing its own intelligence assessments.

It's unlikely that the U.S. would launch a strike against Syria while the United Nations team is still in the country. The administration may also try to time any strike around Obama's travel schedule — he's due to hold meetings in Sweden and Russia next week — in order to avoid having the commander in chief abroad when the U.S. launches military action.

The president has ruled out putting American troops on the ground in Syria and officials say they are not considering setting up a unilateral no-fly zone.

On Capitol Hill, bipartisan support for a military response appeared to be building, with some key lawmakers calling for targeted strikes. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Ohio Republican had "preliminary communication" with White House officials about the situation in Syria and a potential American response.

However, some lawmakers from both parties were calling on the president to consult Congress before moving forward. Republican Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia is asking colleagues to sign a letter to the president urging him to reconvene Congress and seek approval for any military action.

More than 100,000 people have died in clashes between forces loyal to Assad and rebels trying to oust him from power over the past two and a half years. While Obama has repeatedly called for Assad to leave power, he has resisted calls for a robust U.S. intervention, and has largely limited American assistance to humanitarian aid. The president said last year that chemical weapons use would cross a "red line" and would likely change his calculus in deciding on a U.S. response.

Obama took little action after Assad used chemical weapons on a small scale earlier this year and risks signaling to countries like Iran that his administration does not follow through on its warnings.

Officials said it was likely the targets of any cruise-missile attacks would be tied to the regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks. Possible targets would include weapons arsenals, command and control centers, radar and communications facilities, and other military headquarters. Less likely was a strike on a chemical weapons site because of the risk of releasing toxic gases.

Military experts and U.S. officials said Monday that the precision strikes would probably come during the night and target key military sites.

__ AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report from Bander Seri Begawan, Brunei ___ Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's foreign minister said Tuesday his country would defend itself using "all means available" in case of a U.S. strike, denying his government was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus and challenging Washington to present proof backing up its accusations.

Walid al-Moallem spoke at a press conference in Damascus as condemnation of President Bashar Assad's grew over last week's purported attack with poison gas, which activists say killed hundreds of people. The Arab League threw its weight behind calls for punitive action, blaming the Syrian government for the attack and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

The announcement by the 22-member body, which is dominated by Gulf powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, provides indirect Arab cover for any potential military attack by Western powers.

The United Nations, meanwhile, said that its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria has delayed a second trip to investigate the alleged attack near Damascus by one day for security reasons.

Al-Moallem, speaking at a press conference in Damascus, likened U.S. allegations that President Bashar Assad's regime was behind the attack to false American charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

"They have a history of lies — Iraq," he said. Al-Moallem spoke a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical attack likely launched by Assad's regime.

Kerry's comments and tough language Monday laid out the clearest argument yet for U.S. military action in Syria, which, if President Barack Obama decides to order it, would most likely involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that U.S. forces are now ready to act on any such order.

In an interview with BBC television during a visit to the southeast Asian nation of Brunei, he said the U.S. Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea positioned within range of targets inside Syria. U.S. warplanes are also in the region, he said.

Support for some sort of international military response is likely to grow if it is confirmed that Assad's regime was responsible for the Aug. 21 attack that activists say killed hundreds of people. The group Doctors Without Borders put the death toll at 355.

In an emergency meeting held Tuesday, the Arab League also called on members of the U.N. Security Council to overcome their differences and agree on "deterrent" measures against those who committed "this heinous crime." The League said it will convene a meeting at the ministerial level next week to follow up on the situation in Syria.

"The council holds the Syrian regime totally responsible for this heinous crime and calls for all involved in the despicable crime to be given a fair international trial like other war criminals," a statement issued by the League said.

Obama has yet to say how he will respond, but appeared to be moving ahead even as the U.N. team on the ground in Syria collected evidence from the attack.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament on Tuesday for an urgent discussion on a possible military response, as the army drew up contingency plans.

Cameron's office said that Britain is considering a "proportionate" response that would deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future.

At the Syrian news conference, Al-Moallem called the U.S. accusations "categorically false."

"I challenge those who accuse our forces of using these weapons to come forward with the evidence," he said. Syria would fight back in case of a U.S. strike, he added.

"We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone," he told reporters in Damascus. "We will defend ourselves using all means available. I don't want to say more than that," he added.

Al-Moallem also rejected accusations that Syria was destroying evidence of the alleged attack. He said he was personally unconvinced that there will be international military action, but that if there was Syria could handle it.

"The strike will come and go. We get mortars every day and we have learned to live with them," he said.

He also blamed the postponement of the U.N. team's planned visit to the eastern Ghouta suburb on disputes between rebel gunmen who could not agree on safety guarantees for the investigators.

The U.N confirmed the one-day delay, saying only it was for security reasons. A statement said the decision was made Tuesday in order to improve preparedness and safety, after unidentified snipers opened fire on the team's convoy on Monday on a similar trip to the region.

"The Secretary-General again urges all sides in the conflict to give safe passage and access to the team," the statement said.

The U.N. team traveled Monday to the western Damascus suburb Moadamiyeh, one of the areas affected by purported chemical attack, where they collected samples and testimony after a treacherous journey through government and rebel-held territory. Their convoy was hit by snipers but members of the team were unharmed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had instructed U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane in Damascus "to register a strong complaint" with both the Syrian government and opposition representatives for the convoy attack.

In Geneva, U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters that the inspection team might need longer than the planned 14 days to complete its work and its priority now is to determine what chemical weapons might have been used in the Aug. 21 attack. "This is the first priority," she said.

___ Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue contributed from Beirut, John Heilprin from Geneva and Sarah El Deeb from Cairo.
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