Hackers in the United Arab Emirates were behind a cyber-attack on Qatar’s state news agency in late May, Doha said on Thursday, laying blame for an episode that helped spark the Gulf’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades.
“We are sure and know that…the beneficiary [of the hacking] is in the UAE,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Lt. Col. Ali Mohammed Al Muhannadi, the head of the investigation team at Qatar’s Ministry of Interior, as saying while presenting the results of an inquiry into the cyber-attack.
The interior ministry documented a spike in visits to Qatar News Agency’s website from the UAE during the cyber-attack, he said.
Qatar’s prosecutors are preparing to file a lawsuit against the perpetrators of the attack, according to the ministry.
Qatar stopped short of blaming the Emirati government for the hacking, which resulted in fake news stories appearing on Doha’s state-run media.
But it was the first time that Qatar tied the false reports to the UAE, suggesting Doha has grounds to believe Abu Dhabi may have deliberately orchestrated the hacking as a pretext for taking steps to isolate the country, the Journal noted.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt last month severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, citing its support for Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and its covert ties with terror groups like al Qaeda. The four countries issued a list of demands, which Doha rejected.
Qatar has repeatedly denied backing extremists but maintains it has the right to pursue an independent foreign policy.
On May 24, news stories appeared on Qatar’s state-run media carrying incendiary comments attributed to Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, who was quoted as praising both Iran and Hamas.
The remarks, which also appeared on social media accounts linked to the state-controlled news agency, were swiftly denied by Qatar’s government, who said the sites had been hacked.
Despite the denial, Qatar’s Gulf neighbors responded by blocking access to Qatari media outlets including Al Jazeera, before severing ties with Doha a few weeks later.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week, citing US intelligence officials, that senior Emirati officials were suspected to be behind the cyber-attack on Qatar News Agency.
Emirati officials have vehemently denied that the UAE had anything to do with the hacker attack.
“The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking,” the Journal quoted Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, as saying in a statement.
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