The hacker group Anonymous claims it has the name of the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager over the weekend.
But in a rare display of caution, the group said Wednesday it is waiting to release the officer's name until it can be confirmed.
"We have the name of the shooter," the group tweeted. "We just can't verify. We need to either talk to witnesses or get a second leak source."
One member of Anonymous told HuffPost the hacker group wanted "to be absolutely positive it is correct."
"There have been instances in the past where anons have released erroneous dox," the Anonymous member “katanon" said in an interview via online chat room, referring to the hacker slang of exposing a person's true identity online.
Ferguson teenager Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed Saturday by a police officer while walking with a friend from a convenience store. Police say Brown hit the officer and tried to steal his gun, but Brown’s friend, who witnessed the shooting, has told reporters the officer ordered them onto the sidewalk and threatened Brown with his weapon.
The shooting has sparked several days of contentious protests in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb with a mostly black population and a mostly white police force. Officers have fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds, and some protesters looted local stores.
Ferguson police initially said they would release the name of the officer involved in the shooting, but changed course on Tuesday, citing online threats made against the officer and the police department.
Meanwhile, Anonymous has tried using its hacking skills to pressure the police to release the officer's name. On Tuesday, the hackers posted online the home address and phone number of St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, as well as a photo of his house.
A Twitter account belonging to Anonymous tweeted: “Jon Belmar, if you don’t release the officer’s name, we’re releasing your daughter’s info. You have one hour.” The group, however, did not appear to follow through on the threat.
On Sunday, the hackers posted a YouTube video in which a computer-generated voice demanded that Missouri’s congressional representatives introduce legislation to “set strict national standards for police conduct and misbehavior.”
The video warned that if police disrupted the protesters, the hackers would publicly release the emails and personal information of the police department and “take every Web-based asset of your department and government offline.”
A cyber attack by Anonymous brought down the city’s email system Sunday night, and Ferguson's mayor asked the city's IT department to take down all personal information from its website, according to the local TV station KMOV. On Wednesday, a reporter for the station tweeted that the city’s email system and website were working again.
The Anonymous member “katanon" told HuffPost the group's main goal was to bring more attention to the shooting.
“Personally, I would like nationwide protests and the issue to not be swept under the rug yet again,” the member said. "‘Just another dead black kid’ is getting very, very old.”
Anonymous has joined previous protests triggered by allegations of police brutality. In 2011, the group hacked myBart.org, a website for San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit riders, and leaked personal information of users. The attack was in retaliation for a decision by BART to cut off underground cellphone service to shut down a protest against police violence.
Gabriella Coleman, a professor of anthropology at McGill University who studies Anonymous, said the group had largely been quiet over the past year.
"Anonymous has been on hiatus," said Coleman, author of the forthcoming book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the Many Faces of Anonymous.
But Coleman said the group's involvement in the Ferguson protests may signal the hacker collective is back -- "at least for awhile."
"They've gotten so much attention," she said, "and that emboldens them."
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