Skip to main content

Pegasus: Israeli spyware 'used to capture Dubai's Princess Latifa'

Numbers linked to daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, including Princess Haya, found on list of suspected NSO targets
This picture taken in Dubai on 21 June shows a photo purportedly of the Gulf emirate's Sheikha Latifa (R) with a woman identified as Sioned Taylor, a former Royal Navy member, at Madrid's airport, published on an unverified Instagram account, the latest in a series of images posted after the UN asked for proof the royal was still alive (AFP)

Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the runaway princess whose detention by her father, the ruler of Dubai, caused a worldwide scandal, was captured in 2018 using Pegasus spyware, an investigation has found.

According to the Washington Post, phone numbers belonging to friends and associates of the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is the prime minister of the UAE, were added to the list of numbers to be targeted for surveillance by the software provided by Israel's NSO Group.

The numbers were added in February 2018 in the hours and days after the princess escaped Dubai with the help of her friend Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish capoeira instructor.

Eight days later, when she travelled as far as India's Malabar coast, Indian, then Emirati forces violently boarded her boat and returned her to Dubai.

It is not possible to verify what role Pegasus may have played in her recapture, without having the devices to analyse.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Pegasus: From its own king to Algeria, the infinite reach of Morocco's intelligence services
Read More »

The NSO Group has denied that the list of 50,000 numbers, which has been reported on by a consortium of international journalists, is one of the targets or potential targets of the company's customers, and told the Washington Post that its "repeated reliance on this list and association of the people on this list as potential surveillance targets is false and misleading”.

Last year, a British judge ruled that Sheikh Mohammed was keeping both Latifa and her sister Shamsa captive and had kidnapped the two on separate occasions.

In February, the BBC broadcast videos secretly recorded by Latifa and sent to friends abroad, in which she described her capture and her imprisonment after her return to the emirate.

She said she was being held alone without access to medical or legal help in a locked villa guarded by police.

Last month, she was seen in Spain in Instagram photos, with a campaign group supporting her saying there had been "very positive steps forward" in terms of her personal freedom.

The Washington Post reported that UAE authorities appeared to have also entered numbers into the Pegasus list linked to Princess Haya bint Hussein, Sheikh Mohammed's then-wife. Princess Haya, the half-sister of Jordan's King Abdullah II, told a British court during a custody battle with Sheikh Mohammed that she had expressed concern for Latifa's wellbeing after she was returned to Dubai.

Numbers belonging to Princess Haya, her half-sister, assistants, a horse trainer, and members of her legal and security teams were all entered in early 2019 - shortly before and after she fled to London with their two children.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.