FBI confirms Qatar News Agency hack, Russian hackers suspected
US intelligence officials believe Russian hackers may have planted a false news story that led Saudi Arabia and several allies to sever relations with Qatar, prompting an ongoing diplomatic crisis, CNN reported on Tuesday.
FBI experts visited Qatar in late May to analyse an alleged cyber breach that saw the hackers place the fake story with Qatar's state news agency, the US broadcaster said.
Saudi Arabia then cited the false item as part of its reason for instituting a diplomatic and economic blockade against Qatar.
Qatar's government said the May 23 news report attributed false remarks to the emirate's ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel, and questioned whether US President Donald Trump would last in office.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the broadcaster that the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.
"Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis is being based on misinformation," he told CNN.
"It was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency, which was hacked and proved by the FBI," he added.
If accurate, the allegations would indicate Russian efforts to undermine US foreign policy, building on US intelligence concerns that Russian hackers attempted to influence last year's presidential election, won by Trump. The Kremlin denies meddling, but President Putin recently admitted some Russian hackers may be acting independently.
Severing ties with Qatar
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain all cut off diplomatic contact with Qatar on Monday morning, after officially accusing it of "sponsoring terrorism".
In what appears to be a coordinated move, foreign office officials claimed Qatar was responsible for supporting the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda "at all levels" in an unprecedented diplomatic spat for the Gulf region.
In a tweet sent out early on Monday morning, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Protecting national security from threats of terrorism and extremism, Saudi Arabia has decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with the State of Qatar."Riyadh announced on state television that Qatar would no longer participate in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, claiming Doha had helped support the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, despite the fact that Qatari soldiers have been killed fighting the Houthis.
Analysts say the campaign against Qatar was pre-planned and is meant to force Doha to bring its foreign policy more in line with those of heavyweight Saudi Arabia and its ally the UAE.