BNR – According to a collection of released files, namely Abu Dhabi Secret Files––also known as “UAEGate” ––many Muslims in Europe have been in the crosshair of the UAE anti-Qatar slander crusade at the peak of the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017.
The UAE intelligence worked with the Alp Services company from Switzerland to snoop on a multitude of European Muslim figures. Under false pretences, the Emirati entity linked those figures, including influencers, activists and famous reporters, to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
The Muslim Brotherhood is a well-known organisation across the region, largely having a hand in the 2011 Arab Spring. The organisation is dubbed ‘terrorist’ in the United Arab Emirates and most of the world.
The Emirati fierce conflict with the organisation is not only anchored in different perspectives on ideology. However, it comes from a fear of possible danger to the MENA region’s autocracy, exemplified by most Gulf regimes. Furthermore, it’s obvious with the appearance of governments linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia after the 2011 events.
In 2017, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt illegally besieged Qatar via air, land and sea. It included a ferocious slander crusade, under the pretext that Qatar was involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly supporting terrorism.
The Abu Dhabi Secret Files (UAEGate), via the French journal Mediapart, point to the fact that the UAE falsely and purposefully targeted individuals as being linked to the Brotherhood.
The campaign was only the tip of a huge Alp Services mission dubbed by the code name ‘Arnica’ or ‘Crocus’. The mission centred on the UAE’s two issues: The State of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
Dr Andreas Krieg, Assistant Professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, stated that the mission aimed to dismantle the connections of the Muslim society. It disseminated false news about people, intending to damage reputable Muslims, Islamic associations, and civil society institutions in Europe.
Among those who were impacted by the mission are: Benoît Hamon, Samia Ghali, the CNRS, and La France insoumise. In the report, Mediapart further states that a “frightening cartography” was delivered to the Emirati secret services.
The Alp Services’ delivery presents an infographic showing pictures of people, allegedly radical Muslims, intertwined with lines in a network. Several Mediapart and New Yorker reports have displayed many of the secretive strategies implemented by the UAE-hired entity.
Furthermore, a more shocking reveal from the latest probe that relies on Mediapart-acquired confidential data was sent to the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network.
The Alp Services data to Abu Dhabi between 2017 and 2020 include a list of more than 1,000 individuals and 400 organisations incorrectly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in 18 European states.
The list goes to extremes by revealing the individuals’ personal information and putting them in the same place as Al-Qaeda-associated terrorists. Every person on the list is noted as strongly connected with the Muslim Brotherhood or a supporter of the organisation.
The renowned French reporter Taha Bouhafs criticised the mission, calling it a “social media watch”. “For years every public figure who takes a public stand against discrimination against Muslims has been taxed on social networks with Islamism and Brotherism,” he said.
Dr Krieg indicated that UAE discovered partners for the story they shared. “The kind of Muslim Brotherhood label was… cultivated as a powerful narrative to discredit any actor in the Muslim space.”
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On the other side, he stated that Qatar has made its networks in the Islamic European community, especially as it influenced talks and led context on Islam. Qatar has constantly proven a solid position towards rejecting Islamophobia and regional cases, especially in Palestine.
“The information networks of Qatar and… the UAE are somewhat diametrically opposed and they are still competing,” Krieg said. He said that attacking Qatar and their supporters is easy by damaging the Muslim civil society’s reputation in Europe.
“Most of them have a leniency to support Qatar’s policy in the region, particularly when it came to the Arab Spring.” He stated that they called for freedom and liberty during the Arab Spring, while the UAE contradicted.
For a very long time, the UAE has labelled the MB as a “terrorist”. It has also taken strict steps to crack down on its members and any dissidents speaking against the UAE.
Protests are forbidden, and a lot of politically-driven individuals, at least 41, are still detained. That’s even though they finished their sentences, according to reports. UAE authorities have purposefully elongated their sentence by charging them with following “extremist” views.
Apparently, a 2021 probe by the NGO Forbidden Stories highlighted the UAE’s targeting and monitoring of opponents through Pegasus spyware. The tool can hack phones and gain illegal access to personal information and connections through zero-click attacks.
After a long tension, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have returned to normalcy with Qatar, resuming diplomatic relations.
The most recent disclosures of the Abu Dhabi Secret Files (UAEGate) come amidst a continued effort to decrease tension. A few weeks ago, Qatar and the UAE declared the re-opening of their respective embassies.
Krieg said while he expects the relationship to be “good”, it will also be pragmatic from both sides.
Leading the mission is Mario Brero, 77, a renowned private investigator and founder of Alp Services. The agency was founded in Geneva over 30 years ago.
On 7 August 2017, Brero told Matar, a UAE intelligence officer, about the offer his agency received two weeks earlier. The offer was to embark on a mission to “map” and then “discredit” the alleged opponents of the Abu Dhabi.
The mission was to confidentially and thoroughly spread jeopardising data, according to Mediapart’s report.
In 2017, there were many trips to the UAE, during which Matar guided the Swiss private officers to his supervisor officer. The latter was the true leader of the mission, labelled by Mediapart as Ali Saeed Al-Neyadi.
Al-Neyadi supervises a local office for crisis and natural disaster management. However, in real life, it directly relays information to the Supreme National Security Council, serving the armed wing of special operations.
Talks between both sides led to the signing of an initial contract in October 2017.
According to Mediapart, Alp Services received not less than €5.7m (approx. $6.26m) from 2017 to 2020. The money was provided by the Emirati research facility “Al Ariaf”, allegedly a front for the secret services.
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These strategies cover media campaigns, documents spread under false identities, and the forging of Wikipedia data. It also included moves to persuade banks of closing accounts. Hazim Nada, a businessman in Switzerland and shareholder of an oil trading company, fell victim. The special operations were the reason behind Nada’s bankruptcy, Mediapart reported.
Among the states, in which the agency was active, France stood out. Several files and reports were published, including a file labelled “Muslim Brotherhood in France December 2020”. The file included 191 names and 125 organisations.
The documents also present Alp Services as the entity that provided the UAE intelligence services with the option to place more orders. The orders targeted people of their choice, at a price ranging from 20 to 50 thousand euros per individual.
The UAE has always been involved in slander crusades against Qatar. Experts claim that the crusades aim at damaging Qatar’s reputation, built over the last several years.
“These networks are still operating on behalf of the UAE,” Krieg said in regards to the UAE anti-Qatar crusades. “They can be mobilised against Qatar if and when the UAE decides to do so.”