Toronto – The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, has come to his country’s defense, declaring the UAE had “no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking” in May of the official Qatar News Agency.
The allegations were made in an article published on Sunday by the Washington Post. In the report, anonymous US intelligence officials were quoted as saying that newly-examined information has confirmed that a conversation took place May 23 between senior UAE government officials regarding a plan to hack Qatar’s media sites.
Later that same day, a story surfaced o the official Qatar News Agency, quoting Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, being highly critical of US “hostility” toward Iran, whom he referred to in the story as “an Islamic power that cannot be ignored.”
The report also quoted the Emir calling Hamas the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
Although Qatar immediately denounced the story as fake, claiming its site was hacked and the fake item planted to discredit Qatar in the region, the story went viral and the situation became serious overnight.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt all banned Qatari media in their respective countries. Two weeks later, on June 5, the same four countries announced they were severing all diplomatic ties with Qatar citing its unhealthy relationship with Iran and its alleged financial support of terrorist groups. This was followed almost immediately by a trade blockade, completing Qatar’s regional isolation and sending the region into its worst crisis in decades.
From the onset of the situation, Qatar has maintained its innocence and, to date, no evidence has been brought forward by the bloc to support the allegations made against it. After a long delay, the bloc presented its list of demands to Qatar on June 22 and gave the country just ten days to comply.
The list included the closure of state-funded network, Al Jazeera, the dismantling of a Turkish military bas on Qatar soil, a cooling of relations with Iran and the cessation of any financial support for terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda and ISIS.
Calling the demands “unworkable,” Qatar rejected them, claiming they had been deliberately designed to be impossible to meet. Qatar and many in the international community, including ally to both sides, the US, openly wondered if the real motivation behind the blockade was indeed a concern for global security or simply a way to deal with old sources of tension between the countries.
The US intelligence community has not yet responded to the Washington Post article but the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, called the allegations of his country’s involvement in the Qatar hacking “untrue” in an interview with the BBC on Monday.
UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba took to Twitter to reject the allegations, posting “What is true is Qatar’s behaviour. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Gaddafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbours.”
Otaiba’s own private email account, however, has been cited as a source of hacking information. Emails from the account were circulated to the media by an organization called GlobalLeaks. The emails highlight a years-long campaign on the part of the UAE to court Washington support for its ongoing dispute with Qatar.
The US intelligence officials quoted in the Washington Post report added that it remains unclear if the UAE committed the hacking itself or used an outside source to achieve their goal.