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UAE behind 'fake news' cyber attack on Qatar, says US report

US officials say high-ranking UAE officials discussed plan day before attack, according to Washington Post
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, with Qatar emir Tamim bin Hamad in Doha last week (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates was behind a hacking attack on Qatar and the planting of fake news reports which precipitated the Gulf crisis, the Washington Post has reported.

The attacks posted incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, over alliances with Iran, Hamas and Israel.

The newspaper reported that US officials became aware of the details of the hack last week after newly examined information gathered by US officials confirmed that high-ranking members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation on 23 May.

Qatar has evidence that certain iPhones originating from countries laying siege to Qatar were used in the hack

- Qatari official

The UAE's foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, denied the reports on Monday morning.

The US officials, who have not been named, told the Washington Post that it was unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or used a third-party to carry them out.

False statements

The false reports, which first appeared on 24 May, said the emir, among other things, had called Iran an "Islamic power" and praised Hamas.

They came after the US president, Donald Trump, completed a string of counter-terrorism meetings with Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia.

At the time of the alleged social media posts Qatar said it was being targeted by a "hostile" campaign.

Publication of the fake story, which hit Qatar's official news agency website and Twitter account just after midnight on 24 May, led to ripples of reaction across the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE both blocked Qatari-based news outlets, including Al Jazeera, from broadcasting in their territory in the wake of the stories' appearance.

Saudi Arabia and its allies then imposed sanctions on Doha on 5 June, including closing its only land border, denying Qatar access to their airspace and ordering their citizens back from the emirate. The issues has plunged the oil-rich region into a diplomatic and political crisis.

"The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article," the Emirati statement said.

Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to Washington, told the Post: "What is true is Qatar's behaviour. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Gaddafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalisation, and undermining the stability of its neighbours."

Qatari denials

Qatar has repeatedly charged that its sites were hacked, but it has not released the results of its investigation, the Post reported.

Intelligence officials said their working theory since the Qatar hacks has been that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt or some combination of those countries were involved.

It remains unclear whether the others also participated in the plan.

A spokesman for the Qatari embassy in the US responded in a statement to the Post, drawing attention to a statement by Qatar's attorney general, Ali Bin Fetais al-Marri, who said late last month that "Qatar has evidence that certain iPhones originating from countries laying siege to Qatar were used in the hack."

The four Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, accuse Qatar of maintaining ties to Iran and of funding Islamist extremist groups. Qatar has denied the accusations.

The Gulf crisis is the worst the region has seen since the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981.

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