Fake news hack in Qatar triggers media blackout, rebuke from Arab neighbors

Posted May 25, 2017

"A false statement attributed to His Highness has been published", said a government statement early Wednesday.

The hackers purportedly published what Qatari authorities described as a fake article claiming the small, gas-rich nation had ordered its ambassadors from Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates withdrawn over "tension" with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The retracted story also had quotes attributed to Tamim that stated that Qatar has good relations with Israel and that there is no wisdom in making an enemy out of Iran, the Middle East Eye reported. An investigation into the incident was underway, and those responsible would be held accountable, the Government Communications Office continued. Iran denies that and says Saudi Arabia, the dominant GCC power, supports militant Islamist armed groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Internet users in Bahrain and Egypt said early Thursday that access had been cut off. Authorities there had no immediate comment.

Trump met Sheikh Tamim and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders on his trip to Saudi Arabia on Saturday and Sunday, where he renewed his assertion that Iran was a leading state sponsor of terrorism.

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Al Jazeera has said it is "studying the reports our channels and digital platforms have been blocked in certain countries in the region". The purported fake story prompted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to respond by blocking Qatari media, including broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Qatar has been at odds with Gulf states for sometime over the extent of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an issue that has been brought into sharper relief by Trump's demand for Gulf states to do more to fight extremism. It declined to comment further.

In addition, the hacked Twitter account contained a false story in Arabic apparently from the country's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, about Qatar withdrawing its ambassadors from several nearby countries. Western officials also have accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaida's branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.

The White House, which has also taken a much more black-and-white view of political Islamists than its predecessor, has emboldened voices in the USA capital critical of Qatar's ties to Islamist militant groups, like Hamas in Palestine and a number of actors in Syria. However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012.

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