Khashoggi's wife to sue NSO for spying on her alongside KSA, UAE
Following the spyware company being blacklisted by the US, Khashoggi's widow intends to sue the NSO Group's Pegasus for attempts to spy on her before his murder.
The wife of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disclosed that she was targeted by the Israeli Pegasus spyware, and is preparing to take its manufacturer, NSO Group, in the US to court.
Hanan Elatr also stated her intention to sue Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the account of their attempts to install the Pegasus software on her phone to spy on her, as she attempts to obtain proof and evidence from Agnès Callamard, the former UN official who investigated the murder in her role as special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings.
Currently residing in the US where she is seeking political asylum, Elatr believes that there are two mobile phones, an iPad and a laptop that belonged to her husband, suspected to be in the hands of the Turkish authorities, that she is wanting to recover to support her case.
Her legal counsel, Randa Fahmy, tried to reclaim the electronics from the Turkish embassy in Washington last year but to no avail because officials insisted she apply legally in Turkey for the retrieval request.
In a collaborative investigation by the Guardian and its partners in the Pegasus Project last year, new evidence exposed that an NSO client targeted Elatr just a few months before her husband’s murder, between November 2017 and April 2018. Khashoggi was brutally killed and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of that year. In 2017, NSO sold Pegasus to Saudi Arabia. The spyware was employed as part of a merciless drive to quell internal dissent and track down Saudi dissidents overseas, according to a report by The New York Times.
Upon the conclusion of a forensic examination of Elatr’s Android phone last year, it was revealed that she received four text messages including malicious links connected to Pegasus, even though a full successful installation was not proven by the analysis. However, Pegasus software has the power to transform a phone into a surveillance device, activating microphones and cameras without the knowledge of its user. Following her arrest in Dubai airport in April 2018 by UAE intelligence services, Elatr’s phone was confiscated and upon examination later on, it was revealed that there was an attempt to install the software at that time.
Callamard, who is advocating in Elatr's case, stated that she had been prohibited previously from restoring the devices, saying: “As UN special rapporteur investigating the Saudi state murder of Jamal Khashoggi, I was aware from the very first days that the Turkish authorities were holding Jamal’s phones and his computer as part of their investigation. From the very beginning of my investigation, in my meetings with the prosecutor, I asked whether they had investigated whether the phones or computers had been hacked but never got any reply except that it was ‘ongoing’."
She further added: “On my last meeting with the prosecutor, I suggested that maybe other experts, such as within the FBI, should be brought in given how difficult it is to trace and identify spywares such as Pegasus. But they refused or resisted the proposal. I was hoping that during the trial in Turkey, the prosecutor will reveal information they had collected on Jamal’s phones or computer. But as we know this sadly did not happen and the trial in Turkey has now been brought to an abrupt end. Without justice delivered.”
In light of Elatr's claims against the scandal-riddled Israeli company, a spokesman for the spyware manufacturer rejected the allegations, adding: “NSO has repeatedly stated that our technology was not associated in any way with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi or any of his family members, including Hanan Elatr.”
But Elatr was adamant on resorting to the US courts for full disclosure regarding the short period before her husband's murder and who was potentially spying on him. This may have to be rushed as the White House is urged to intervene after a decision was taken by a Turkish court to suspend a trial in absentia of 26 Saudis accused of carrying out the murder before it is transferred to Saudi Arabia. Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag stated that the Turkish court's decision to stop proceedings in the case of slain opposition Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi is legal.
Now serving as the secretary general of Amnesty International, Callamard expressed that she had been notified of Elatr's efforts to regain the devices from the Turkish authorities and reiterated her support for Elatr and her stance on the matter: “The Turkish government has been clear that it does not intend to proceed with the investigation and the trial. It should therefore hand over any evidence still in its hands to those which are truly and authentically determined to reveal the truth about Jamal’s killing. Determining whether his phones had been hacked, whether he was under digital surveillance, identifying the spywares – these are all crucial elements both for the purpose of truth telling and for understanding and preventing targeting of dissidents.”
US intelligence agencies deduced that the cold-blooded murder was approved by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), which he in return denied by labeling it a “heinous crime” and a “mistake … committed by officials working for the Saudi government”. Of the 11 men prosecuted by the Saudi government for the murder, five of them were sentenced to death, but their sentences were later overruled.