The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Saudis used Israeli spyware to track Canadian-based dissident Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Saudis used Israeli spyware to track Canadian-based dissident

Outside the Israeli NSO group, which developed the Pegasus spyware [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 October, 2018

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
The 27-year-old Omar Abdulaziz ran a satirical news programme criticising the Saudi government, and was granted political asylum in 2014.
Saudi Arabia used Israeli-made spyware to surveil the Canada-based dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who claimed political refuge in the country in 2014, according to a new report by the internet watchdog Citizen Lab.

The spyware, known as Pegasus, is marketed as a tool to thwart terrorism but critics say it is used to violate the human rights of dissidents worldwide.

Citizen Lab said on Monday Abdulaziz's phone was likely targeted and infected this summer via an SMS masquerading as a packaging tracking link.

After making a purchase one morning on Amazon, Abdulaziz received a purported tracking link operated by the domain that was used to infect his device. 

Once a phone is infected with Pegasus spyware, the hackers have full access to a range of contents stored on the phone including messages, emails and pictures. A user can also be listened in on via a phone's microphone, Citizen Lab added.

Abdulaziz says he uses a separate phone, not the one infected by Pegasus, to carry out his activism.

The Saudi-born activist has been living in Quebec since 2009 and launched a satirical YouTube programme while a student at McGill University that has criticised the kingdom's human rights record.

The programme has 128,000 subscribers and its videos have been viewed by millions.

The Saudi government revoked Abdulaziz's scholarship to study abroad in 2014, after which he applied for asylum and was granted permanent residency that year.

In August, the same month Abdulaziz's phone was hacked, authorities showed up at the doorstep of his brother's home in Saudi Arabia and was threatened by authorities. 

They "asked him to convince me [to] stop tweeting about what's really going on between Canada and Saudi Arabia, or they're going to send him to jail", he told the CBC.

Two of his brothers, Ahmed and Abdulmeguid, were arrested later that month.

Canada, too, sparked Saudi Arabia's fury in August after the government's offical foreign affairs Twitter account called for the "immediate release" of detained activists, including women's rights campaigner Samar Badawi. 

Saudi Arabia in response recalled its ambassador, froze all new trade and investments with Canada, and ordered thousands of Saudi students out of the country.

The state-owned airline Saudia also suspended flights to Toronto.

Abdulaziz had previously called on Saudi nationals studying in Canada who feared speaking out to "keep studying. Keep working. Do not go back home".

In addition to Saudi Arabia, a number of other Gulf states - including the UAE and Bahrain - are likely using Pegasus spyware to snoop on activists, according to Citizen Lab.

A September report by the watchdog said it detected Pegasus in more than 45 countries. 

Amnesty International also revealed this year that a member of staff and a Saudi activist working with the organisation has been targeted using Pegasus.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More