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#AbuDhabiSecrets: How UAE targeted European Muslims as part of 2017 anti-Qatar campaign – Doha News

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At the height of the Gulf Cooperation Council crisis in 2017, the United Arab Emirates targeted large numbers of Muslims across Europe as part of its anti-Qatar smear campaign, according to a trove of public documents dubbed the “Secret Abu Dhabi Files.”

UAE intelligence hired private Swiss firm Alp Services to investigate thousands of European Muslims, including influential figures, activists and prominent journalists, falsely linking them to the Muslim Brotherhood [MB].

While MB is a popular regional movement and was heavily involved in the 2011 Arab Spring, it is classified as an illegal “terrorist organization” in the UAE.

The backlash against MB in the UAE stems from more than just ideological differences. Rather, it stems from concerns about potential threats to authoritarian regimes and monarchies in the region, as evidenced by the rise of elected Brotherhood-linked governments in Tunisia and Egypt following the 2011 Arab Spring.

In 2017, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade of Qatar, intertwined with a massive smear campaign based on Doha’s alleged links to members of the Qatari central bank.

Issued by France media sectionSecret Abu Dhabi dossiers highlight how the UAE deliberately mistook targets for Islamists linked to the Muslim Brotherhood as part of a massive alpine service operation code-named “Arnica” or “Saffron”, which The action has focused on two concerns in Abu Dhabi: Qatar and Muslim brotherhood.

Dr Andreas Krieger, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, told Doha News that the operation was aimed at disrupting communication in the Muslim community by spreading false information about individuals with the aim of tarnish the reputation of respected Muslims in Europe, as well as Muslim institutions and civil society organisations.

Benoît Hamon, Samia Ghali, CNRS and La France insoumise are individuals affected by data collection, media section Its latest report revealed that a “dreadful map” had been sent to the UAE Secret Service.

The shocking image, created by Alp Services, depicts hundreds of people across Europe linked together by arrows in what is alleged to be a network of radical Islamists. Previous reports by Mediapart and The New Yorker have revealed some of the agency’s covert tactics on behalf of Abu Dhabi.

However, something more alarming has emerged from a series of recent investigations based on information contained in confidential documents obtained by Mediapart and subsequently shared with the European Investigative Cooperation (EIC) media network.

According to documents, between 2017 and 2020, Alp Services provided UAE services with a list of more than 1,000 individuals and more than 400 organizations in 18 European countries that falsely claimed to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This compilation was carried out outside any legal framework and many of the individuals named have no connection to MB.

Those mistakenly included in the list included former Socialist Party presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, Marseille deputy mayor and former senator Samia Ghali, author and film producer Rokhaya Diallo, and the Bondy Blog, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise party, and even the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France’s public agency responsible for overseeing scientific research, is detailed in the report.

The list not only equates the individuals with convicted Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, but also includes their personal details and phone numbers. All of the individuals on the list have been flagged as having close ties to or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Prominent French journalist responds to investigation Tahab Hafs The operation was slammed as a “social media watch” that collects the names of individuals connected to “topics or controversies directly or indirectly related to Islam or Islamophobia”.

“It is well known that for years, every public figure who has spoken out against discrimination against Muslims has been taxed by Islamism and brotherhood on social networks. Especially secular networks and circles that are closely associated with the Republican Spring,” he said.

“We have been warning for a long time about the danger of this absolutely unjust witch hunt, and this is the result. We are trapped as enemies in the emirate, where the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a terrorist organization. This puts us in grave danger in,” Buhafs warned.

Over the years, Dr Krieger said, the Emiratis “have found traditional partners for their narrative of authoritarian stability, of spreading fear of political Islam. That label of the Muslim Brotherhood has indeed been cultivated as a very powerful narrative to discredit any type of actor in the Muslim sphere.”

On the other hand, he stated that Doha has built its own network in the European Muslim public sphere, especially in terms of influencing and dominating discussions on Islam. Qatar has traditionally taken a tough stance against Islamophobia and any group promoting Islamophobic rhetoric, as well as regional issues, particularly Palestine.

“So Qatar’s information network and the UAE’s information network are somewhat diametrically opposed, and they are still competing,” Dr Krieger told Doha News.

“So if you want to weaken the Qatari audience, the strength of Qatar and its network, you have to attack them, and the easiest way is to discredit Muslim civil society in Europe, because most of them tolerantly support Qatar in that country. Policies in the region, especially when it comes to the Arab Spring, during the Arab Spring advocating for free and liberal societies, political liberalism, and the UAE is clearly pushing the other side,” he added.

The UAE has long labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization”. The Gulf state has taken tough measures against members of the group and those who criticize the UAE in any way.

Reports indicated that public demonstrations were banned and that a large number of political dissidents (at least 41) were detained even after serving their sentences. Emirati authorities accused them of adopting “extremist ideas”, justifying their continued imprisonment.

Notably, a 2021 investigation by NGO Forbidden Stories shed light on the UAE’s use of Pegasus spyware to target and monitor its adversaries. This spyware is capable of infiltrating mobile phones and gaining unauthorized access to personal data and communications.

Despite years of political tension in the region, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have now reconciled with Qatar and largely restored diplomatic and trade ties. The latest revelations from Abu Dhabi’s secret dossier come amid ongoing efforts to détente and ease tensions in the region. Last month, Doha and Abu Dhabi announced the reopening of their embassies.

“The parties are still very pragmatic about the settlement […] But at the heart of this relationship, and at the heart of the crisis that led to the lockdown, is still an idea or a difference in values ​​and a difference in ideology,” Krieger told Doha News.

“That hasn’t changed, it’s not something you can really negotiate and it’s not something you can really find a pragmatic solution to.”

Krieger said while he expected the relationship to be “good,” it would also be pragmatic.

“But I think that just because there are diametrically opposed ideological approaches to security, politics and international affairs in the Muslim world and in the wider Arab world in the Middle East, you can really build strong trust.”

operate

Leading the operation is Mario Brero, a 77-year-old private investigator veteran and founder of Alp Services, a Geneva-based agency established more than three decades ago.

On Aug. 7, 2017, Brero detailed to Emirati intelligence operative Mattar a proposal his agency had drawn up two weeks earlier — a broad-based campaign to “paint” and then “smear” the UAE’s supposed enemies.

According to Mediapart, the scheme involves discreet and widespread dissemination of harmful information.

During Matar’s multiple visits to Abu Dhabi in 2017, Matar guided Swiss private investigators to his superior, the real mastermind of the operation, dubbed by Mediapart as Ali Saeed Al-Neiya Ali Saeed Al-Neyadi.

Arneiadi oversees the local administration responsible for crisis and natural disaster management. However, the report details that, in practice, this organization, which reports directly to the Supreme National Security Council, also acts as the special operations arm of the armed forces.

The exchange between the two resonated, culminating in the signing of the first contract in October 2017. According to documents collected by Mediapart, Alp Services received payments of at least 5.7 million euros between 2017 and 2020 for funds provided by a research center in the United Arab Emirates called Al Ariaf, which allegedly acted as a front for intelligence services.

These tactics include press campaigns, publishing articles under false identities, manipulating Wikipedia pages, and even trying to convince banks to close accounts. Hazim Nada, a Swiss businessman and owner of an oil trading company, was the victim of one such special operation by Alp Services that left him bankrupt, Mediapart reported.

Among the countries where Swiss institutions are particularly active, France stands out. Multiple documents and reports have been produced, including a map titled “Muslim Brotherhoods in France, December 2020,” which lists just 191 names and 125 organizations.

Alp Services also gave Abu Dhabi intelligence services the option to place additional orders against individuals of their choice, at a cost of between 20,000 and 50,000 euros each, the documents also show.

UAE spearheads anti-Qatar campaign

As experts say, the UAE has long been involved in or running smear campaigns against Qatar to ensure that the good reputation Qatar has built over the past five years is damaged.

“I suspect many of these operations are still ongoing, as we saw before last year’s World Cup. The UAE information network was used to proliferate and mature the information network and to spread disinformation and misinformation about Qatar,” said K Dr Rigg told Doha News.

“I think that’s going to continue for the time being because the UAE has reason to deny, reason to deny continuing to do what they’re doing and gaining relative ground in the information environment.”

On the future of the UAE-led anti-Qatar campaign, Dr Krieger said: “These networks are still operating on behalf of the UAE, and if the UAE decides to do so, they can mobilize against Qatar.”



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