Qatari officials investigating a cyberattack that sparked a diplomatic crisis with four Arab countries have said their findings indicate that the attack was coordinated by one of the four countries, and that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) benefited the most from it.
Qatar's state news agency and its affiliated social media accounts were hacked in May amid a spike in traffic from one of the three neighboring Gulf states that cut ties with Qatar after the incident, officials said.
According to the officials, hackers took over the Qatar News Agency early on May 24 and posted fabricated comments attributed to Qatar's ruler, in which Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani calls Iran an "Islamic power" and says Qatar's relations with Israel are "good."
The comments were quickly disavowed by Qatar but state-owned and semi-official media outlet in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain continued to report the remarks for days without mentioning the disclaimer.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post, citing U.S. intelligence officials, reported that the UAE may have been behind the hack. However, the report was dismissed as "purely not true" by the UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash. A CNN report last month said that U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian hackers planted a false news story that led to the Gulf dispute. However, Moscow denied the report.
In another step to reassure allies, Thani amended the country's counterterrorism laws in a royal decree issued on Thursday. A statement carried by the state news agency QNA said the amendments set rules for defining terrorism, acts of terrorism and freezing funding and financing for terrorism. It also allows for the classification of individuals and groups on two national terrorism lists to be created by the authorities.
Meanwhile, the United States will post officials at the Qatari state prosecutor's office as part of a Qatari-U.S. agreement signed this month to fight the financing of terrorism, people familiar with the matter said. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reached the deal with Qatar during a round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at ending a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. The agreement has not been approved by the four U.S.-allied Arab states which accuse Doha of aiding terrorists, charges Qatar denies.
No details about the contents of the agreement signed by Tillerson and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, have been publicly released. But a Western official in the Gulf who has seen the document said it specifies actions Qatar will take by the end of the year, including placing two U.S. Department of Justice officials in Qatar's general prosecution."They will work hand in hand with Qatar to charge individuals accused of financing terrorists," said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Other actions in the agreement include imposing travel bans, enforcing surveillance, and freezing the assets of individuals with suspected links to terrorism. The accord points to internationally agreed definitions of terrorism without specifying particular groups.
The Gulf crisis is the worst to hit the region since the establishment of the GCC in 1981. With the support of the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, the Saudis announced on June 5 that they were suspending all ties with Qatar. These four Arab nations that cut ties with Qatar urged the tiny Gulf nation earlier to commit to six principles on combatting extremism and terrorism and negotiate a plan with specific measures to implement them. They initially made 13 demands, which Qatar also dismissed.