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Sunday December 17th 2017



No proof of Qatar hacking claim

DOHA // No proof has yet emerged to support Qatar’s claim that the country’s state news agency was hacked.

Qatar said it was investigating the alleged hacking, which lasted four hours and published inflammatory remarks on state media attributed to the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The stories quoted him querying US hostility towards Iran, speaking of tensions between Doha and Washington, defending Qatar’s support for Hamas and Hizbollah, and speculating that president Donald Trump might not remain in power for long.

The remarks were supposedly made at a military ceremony. Doha denied the comments and said it was the victim of a “shameful cybercrime”, although similar views have appeared on its public media several times before.

But this time they have infuriated Qatar’s GCC partner states, who give little credence to the hacking claim.

They also point to the timing of the reported remarks, which coincided with Mr Trump’s high-profile visit to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Trump met Gulf leaders during his visit and laid out the foundations of the new American administration’s vision for the Middle East, emphasising US hopes of repelling Iran’s “aggression” while targeting extremist groups and defeating terrorism — -hopes which are shared by all the Gulf nations. An agreed anti-Iran position was cemented in the Riyadh Declaration, which was signed by all the Gulf nations, including Qatar.

Yet that vision appears to be at odds with Qatar’s provision of a home to the exiled former leadership of Hamas, the presence of a Taliban embassy in Doha and its often-criticised support of the Muslim Brotherhood. US defence secretary James Mattis warned Qatari officials about their continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical movements linked to Al Qaeda and ISIL during his visit to the region.

“I think that a serious situation and even a crisis in the relationship is developing, and very quickly,” said Hesham Alghannam, a Saudi political analyst at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

An editorial in The National’s sister paper, Aletihad, bluntly accused Qatar of duplicity.

“While Saudi Arabia succeeded in persuading the US administration to stand with Arabs and Muslims in the face of a regime that opposes the Arabs, supports terrorism, and spreads chaos in neighbouring Arab and non-Arab countries, Qatar does not agree with it. And it announces these positions here and there, and they are carried by its media outlets, while in meetings with her Gulf brothers it says otherwise. ”

The editorial went on to demand that Qatar should “clarify” its true position on the statements that were supposedly inserted by the alleged hackers.

“The world needs one thing: Qatar should clarify its positions on the issues that came in the statements that claim to be fabricated in a compromised account. We want to know from Qatar, is Iran a terrorist state, or is it a superpower that guarantees stability in the region? Is Hizbollah a terrorist group or a resistance movement? Is Qatar with the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting and funding them or not? Does Qatar consider the presence of the US (military) base to protect it from brotherly countries? Simply put, Qatar should declare its position on the statements in a clear manner. Does it have the courage to do so? … All of us in the Gulf, and some (other) Arab countries, feel that there is a breach in Qatar. It is illogical to issue statements attributed to the Emir of the country and to be published on all the official Qatari media.”

The Qatari foreign minister accused the US of steering “a hostile media campaign”. But apart from blaming hackers, Doha has offered no definitive clarification on its position on Iran and the various terrorist groups in the region.

On Thursday, the Okaz daily in Saudi Arabia thundered, “”Qatar splits the rank, sides with the enemies of the nation,” and “The silence of Arab countries has ended and the leaf has completely fallen.” Riyadh’s Arab News said the comments sparked “outrage” among other Gulf states.

Some Gulf states retaliated by blocking the website of news channel Al Jazeera, which is headquartered in Doha.

* With reporting from Agence France-Presse
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