The United Arab Emirates was not responsible for an alleged hack of Qatari websites that helped spark a month-long diplomatic rift with Doha, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs has said.
According to the Washington Post, US officials discovered last week that UAE ministers held a meeting on 23 May to discuss plans to hack Qatari government news and social media sites and post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
The hack, which took place the following day, preceded the current split in the Gulf between Qatar and a coalition of four states that are mounting an economic and diplomatic boycott against it.
The four states – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain – imposed sanctions on Qatar on 5 June, cutting diplomatic and transport ties with the tiny Gulf monarchy, after accusing it of financing militant groups and allying with their regional arch-foe Iran. Doha denies the accusations.
Speaking at the Chatham House forum in London on Monday, the UAE foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, twice denied the veracity of the claims. He said: “The Washington Post story is not true. It is purely wrong. You will see in the next few days the story will die.” He denied the hack could have precipitated the crisis, saying “this issue has been festering since 2014”.
Among the false social media posts published during the hack were some made in the name of the emir of Qatar, in which he appeared to make disparaging remarks about Donald Trump, praised Gaza’s Hamas leaders and expressed support for Iran as an “Islamic power”. The bogus remarks were reported by Saudi-supporting media. A few days later the four states launched their blockade of Qatar.
The Washington Post gave no further details of how American intelligence had reached its conclusion, but it has previously been alleged that some of the boycotting states could be behind a hack of the official Qatar news agency. Qatar has previously asked US and British officials to investigate the source of the hack.
Gargash said the UAE would not escalate its boycott by asking companies to choose between doing business with it or Qatar.
But he gave no impression that the UAE was willing to abandon the blockade. Instead, he said the quartet intended to put the issue on the back burner to focus on trying to resolve the crises in Libya and Yemen.
“As the Qataris realise this is a crisis that will drag on, we will see them become a bit more realistic,” he said.
He again suggested the structure of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the six-member defence and trading bloc, is not sustainable and denied reports that the UAE had threatened Fifa over continuing to allow Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.