US intelligence officials believe Russian hackers planted a false news story that led Saudi Arabia and several allies to cut relations with Qatar, prompting a diplomatic crisis.
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.
Saudi Arabia then cited the false item as part of its reason for starting a diplomatic and economic blockade against Qatar, the CNN report said.
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.
“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 work against US foreign policy, building on US intelligence concerns that Russian hackers attempted to influence last year’s presidential election, won by Trump. Russia denies any involvement.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced Monday they were cutting diplomatic relations and closing air, sea and land links with Qatar, who they accused of harbouring extremist groups. Qatar has denied the allegations.
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Although Qatar hosts the largest American military airbase in the Middle East, Trump supported the Saudi-led effort to isolate the emirate in a surprise move on Tuesday.
He suggested Qatar was funding extremism.
“They said they would take a hard line on funding... extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
The CNN report quoted the Qatari government communications office as saying it was working with the FBI and Britain’s National Crime Agency on an ongoing hacking investigation.