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UAE reportedly arranged hacking of Qatari government sites

In late May, Qatari government websites were infiltrated by hackers as part of a plan orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates shortly before the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with the country, U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Post Sunday.

It is unclear if the UAE hacked the sites on its own or contracted the task out to someone else, the officials said. On May 24, a story appeared on the Qatar News Agency's website that included fake quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, that were pro-Iran and Hamas. The government said it sent out alerts within 45 minutes saying this was a hoax and the website had been hacked, but a video was posted to the agency's YouTube channel later that day and similar messages appeared on the government's Twitter accounts; even after Qatar made its announcement, Saudi Arabian news agencies were reporting on al-Thani's alleged comments.

The officials told the Post that last week, information gathered by intelligence agencies was analyzed and confirmed that on May 23, senior members of UAE's government spoke about their hacking plan and how to make it happen. The hacking took place not long after President Trump's visit to the region, where he attended a counterterrorism meeting with leaders from across the Persian Gulf. After the fake comments were posted online, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt all announced they were breaking off relations with Qatar.

The UAE's ambassador to the United States told the Post its report was false and his country "had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article." He added that Qatar was "funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas" and "inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors."