The United Arab Emirates has been accused of hacking Qatar’s state news agency and planting a fake news story that helped spark the current diplomatic crisis engulfing the region.
Senior members of the UAE government had discussed a plan to hack Qatari state media sites on May 23, according to US intelligence officials discussing newly-analysed information.
Later that day, the official Qatar News Agency quoted Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. as criticising US “hostility” towards Iran, describing it as an “Islamic power that cannot be ignored”, and praising Hamas, a ideological foe of other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Shortly after the comments were published, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, announced a diplomatic and transport blockade of the peninsula.
Qatari officials said the agency had been hacked by an “unknown entity” and that the story had “no basis whatsoever”. However, the remarks were reported across the region and caused a stir.
US officials said they have independent corroboration that the hack was orchestrated by the UAE, according to the The Washington Post.
However, Anwar Gargash, the UAE state minister for foreign affairs, on Monday said his country had not been behind the alleged cyber attack.
Speaking at the Chatham House international affairs think tank in London, Mr Gargash repeated claims – denied by Qatar – that the country funds extremists.
“This is our message: You cannot be part of a regional organisation dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interest and at the same time undermine that security,” he said.
“You cannot be both our friend and a friend of al-Qaeda.”
Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed sanctions on Doha on June 5, including closing its only land border, denying Qatar access to their airspace and ordering their citizens back from the emirate.
The four Arab states accuse Qatar of ties to Iran and of funding Islamist extremist groups. Qatar has denied the accusations.
The Gulf crisis is the worst to hit the region since the establishment of the GCC in 1981.
“We’ve sent a message to Qatar. We’ve said we are not there to escalate. We are not after regime change. We are after a change of behaviour,” Mr Gargash said.
“We need to do that and when we do that, come back to the fold and we can work together,” he added.