UAE Officials Deny Responsibility For Qatar News Agency Hack Amidst Ongoing Persian Gulf Crisis

The UAE has denied being behind a hack of the Qatari state news agency on May 24. The hack posted fake news stories to the Qatar News Agency’s social media accounts, quoting the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as praising Iran while criticizing Saudi Arabia, sparking the current crisis in the Persian Gulf, as reported by The Atlantic. The accusation arose following publication of a Washington Post article which cited information from U.S. Intelligence officials, who said the plan for the attack had been discussed by UAE officials on May 23. The hacks led to the cessation of relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain in June. Speaking to the BBC, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargesh, called the accusation “untrue.” In a statement, the UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba also denied the claims.

“The post [sic] story is false. The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article. What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”

The Washington Post also reported that hacked emails from the ambassador have been circulated to journalists, which allegedly illustrate attempts by the UAE to sway the U.S. to its side in the dispute with Qatar. President Trump has come down on the side of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, saying that Qatar financed terrorism “at a very high level,” as reported by the New York Times. The rest of his administration has been more cautious, as noted by ABC News, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempts t0 find a diplomatic solution proving inconclusive. Talking to reporters, Tillerson said “in my view, there’s a changed sense of willingness to at least be open to talking to one another,” while admitting that a solution may still be some way off.

Rex Tillerson meets Saudi foreign minister in Saudi Arabia.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, pictured meeting Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, has been in the Middle East attempting to find a solution to the crisis in the Persian Gulf. [Image by U.S. State Department/AP Images]

In response to the alleged hack, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain issued a list of demands to Qatar. These included the closing of Al-Jazeera, ending diplomatic ties with Iran, and that Qatar close a Turkish military base. Turkey, a country with one of the most powerful militaries in the region, has previously had relatively friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, despite a 2013 poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre which showed its citizens have one of the worst views of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. In the midst of this crisis, however, the Turkish state has come down firmly on Qatar’s side. Al-Jazeera reported that Turkey has dismissed the idea of closing its base in Qatar, saying that “it is an important military base and no country should be disturbed by it.” Bloomberg has also reported that Turkey is increasing the size of its military presence in Qatar, including moving commando and artillery units to the country. Ilnur Cevik, a Turkish adviser, said that “Turkey’s steady buildup continues there, protecting the border and the security of the Qatari government.”

The U.S. has its largest base in the region in Qatar, from which it conducts bombing raids against Islamic State.
A U.S. B-52 bomber arrives at Qatar's Al Udeid Air base. [Image by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/AP Images]

An earlier investigation by the FBI had previously suspected Russian freelance hackers were behind the attack, as The Guardian reported. The dispute is a major source of concern for the U.S. government, with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain all working alongside the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State, with fears the dispute could disrupt these efforts. The largest U.S. base in the region is in the now-pariah state, with attacks against Islamic State launched from the country regularly, and with B-52s being based in Qatar, the first time they have been based in the region since the Gulf War. However, President Trump has said that “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it,” reports UAE-based The National. The crisis, as noted by Tillerson, looks set to continue for some time.

[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]