Journalist Sues Saudi Arabian and UAE Crown Princes Over Alleged Phone Hack

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MIAMI, Fla. (CN) — Al Jazeera journalist Ghada Oueiss sued Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed in federal court Wednesday over an alleged conspiracy to sully her reputation. 

In a 93-page complaint filed in the Southern District of Florida, Oueiss claims the crown princes worked with an international network of conspirators to repeatedly hack her cell phone and leak her personal information worldwide. 

Her attorneys, Daniel Rashbaum and Jeffrey Marcus with the law firm Marcus Neiman & Rashbaum LLP, say this network included several Saudi and UAE officials and TV stations. 

The complaint also accuses a few U.S. citizens — such as Florida residents Sharon Collins and Hussam Al-Jundi —  of being involved in the scheme by publishing Oueiss’s stolen information on social media platforms.

“The hack and leak operation was directed and controlled by foreign actors who created an American infrastructure comprised of various U.S. citizens that worked in concert to viciously attack Ms. Oueiss,” the complaint states. 

Her attorneys called the use of unregistered American agents to promote foreign interests in the U.S. “a new instrument of Saudi warfare.”

Among the private information spread by the alleged conspirators were numerous screenshots of a video from Oueiss’ phone, which were doctored in a way to falsely make her appear to be nude. 

The images were then plastered across several websites that Oueiss says were created for the purpose of spreading misinformation about her. 

The journalist’s attorneys wrote that she is “one of the most recent of a list of journalists targeted by joint and coordinated efforts of Saudi and UAE leadership, which leverage multiple entities and vectors using social media harassment campaigns and targeted hacking efforts to defame, humiliate and harm dissidents and any others that report facts unaligned with the Saudi or UAE regimes.” 

Oueiss, who has worked as a journalist in the Middle East for about 20 years, is an anchor for Al Jazeera Arabic and also writes for U.S. news outlets like The Washington Post.

According to the complaint on Wednesday, Oueiss had “earned the attention of the Saudi regime” while reporting on the 2018 state-sanctioned assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul.

She said the hacking and dissemination of her personal information online was done in an attempt to intimidate her from continuing to report on the regimes’ human rights abuses.

Oueiss’s attorneys noted that, in the months leading up to his murder, “Mr. Khashoggi was constantly attacked by an army of Twitter, Inc. (“Twitter”) trolls who were acting at the behest of the Saudi government.”

Included in the long list of defendants in Wednesday’s filing is the same group of officials that allegedly carried out the attack on Khashoggi. 

“Obsessed with maintaining a polished standing, the de facto rulers of the UAE and Saudi regimes are determined to whitewash their public images in the eyes of the American government and its citizens,” the complaint says, “One way to accomplish this goal is to eviscerate all critics of their regimes—no matter the veracity of the critics’ statements about the regimes.” 

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