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Pegasus: Saudis behind NSO spyware attack on Jamal Khashoggi’s family

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According to The Guardian, Saudis were behind an NSO spyware attack on the family of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Forensic examination revealed that the phones of those close to the murdered dissident journalist were targeted both before and after his death.

Based on leaked data and forensic analysis of phones, a joint investigation by the Guardian and other media organisations has uncovered new evidence that the company’s spyware was used to try to monitor people close to Khashoggi both before and after his death.

In one case, a person in Khashoggi’s inner circle was hacked four days after his murder, according to peer-reviewed forensic analysis of her device.

According to the Guardian report, the investigation indicates an apparent attempt by Saudi Arabia and its close ally the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to use the NSO’s spy technology after Khashoggi’s death to monitor his associates and the Turkish murder investigation, even going so far as to select Istanbul’s chief prosecutor’s phone for potential surveillance.

In October 2018, Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

While the investigation mostly points to Khashoggi’s close associates being targeted in the months following his murder, it also found evidence that an NSO client targeted the phone of his former wife, Hanan Elatr, between November 2017 and April 2018.

According to the report, a forensic examination of Elatr’s Android phone revealed that she received four text messages containing malicious links related to Pegasus. According to the analysis, the targeting originated in the UAE.

The examination, however, did not reveal whether the device had been successfully infected.

US intelligence agencies have already concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi government insider whose criticism of the kingdom’s regime in the pages of the Washington Post was viewed as a threat to the Saudi heir.

A team of Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul while he was there to pick up documents to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who later became an outspoken advocate for accountability for his murder.

According to the report, Khashoggi’s close friend Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of the Al Jazeera television network, was also hacked with Pegasus, with analysis revealing that his phone was infected as recently as July 2021.

The phone analysis findings and leaked phone records indicate that Saudi Arabia and its allies used NSO’s spyware in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder to monitor the campaign for justice led by Khashoggi’s friends and associates, while also indicating an intent to spy on the official Turkish investigation into his murder.

The phone number of Irfan Fidan, the Istanbul chief prosecutor who later formally charged 20 Saudi nationals in connection with the killing, was also included in the list of phone numbers of potential candidates for surveillance by NSO Group clients.

About the author

Polina Tikhonova

Polina Tikhonova from Kyiv is Insider Paper’s Editor/Writer. Besides editing pieces, Polina covers articles with a focus on World affairs and politics at Insider Paper. Polina holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Her articles and news reports have been published by many newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs, and online media sources across the globe. Polina is fluent in English, German, Ukrainian, and Russian.




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