The phone numbers of several prominent British Muslim activists are on a leaked list which it’s thought the UAE may have used to hack phones using Israeli spyware.
According to media reports the following activists were all on the list of around 400 UK numbers – Anas Altikriti of the Cordoba Foundation, Raghad Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain, Mohammed Kozbar of Finsbury Park Mosque, and Baroness Pola Uddin.
The numbers appeared in a leaked list of numbers identified by the Israeli firm NSO Group’s client governments between 2017 and 2019.
The UAE is one of 40 countries that had access to the NSO spyware that is able to hack into and secretly take control of a mobile phone.
Anas Altikriti told 5Pillars that he was probably targeted because of his outspoken activism against the UAE.
He said: “Any news that you probably had your privacy violated comes as a deep shock. But to be honest I’d be lying to say that I was surprised. The UAE regime is an obscene, despicable regime and it’s done far worse to far better people than I. The fact that its prisons have dozens of reformists, good people who chose to speak out against oppression and authoritarianism, that eludes to the nature of the UAE government. And therefore anyone, like myself, who for years now has been speaking out against such regimes are seen as a threat. I’m sure Abu Dhabi will do whatever it can to compromise what we do and compromise us as individuals.
“Most likely this had something to do with the UAE’s pursuit of anything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood. And because of the profile I have and comments David Cameron, the former PM, made against my organisation the Cordoba Foundation in 2009 of being a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. And of course our efforts during the Arab Spring against oppressive regimes. That made me one of the UAE’s many targets. But if the UAE sees me as an adversary then that is something I am immensely proud of.”
Altikriti also called on the British government to act against its ally, the UAE.
“We have been desensitised to issues we would normally object to. If someone were standing outside my bedroom window peering in I would find that outrageous and I wouldn’t hesitate to call the police. But now most people are oblivious to their most private messages, thoughts and photos being exposed to those who have a political and security agenda. We need to reconsider where technology stands in the world today and this encroachment on our privacy.
“I am a British subject so the British government needs to own up to its responsibilities over a dictatorial, foreign regime which abuses human rights encroaching on the privacy of British citizens. That has to be squarely at the door of the government which needs to stand up and be firm. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.”
Mohammed Kozbar, the chair of the Finsbury Park mosque, also appeared on the leaked list. His number appeared in the data in 2018.
Kozbar said: I am shocked and angry that my phone has been hacked since 2018 by the UAE government. I cannot understand why since I have never been in the UAE nor have had any involvement with the country.
“As a British citizen, I should not have to even consider the thought of a foreign government hacking my phone here in the UK. It is abhorrent to have my personal liberty breached in this way by a country that has an established record of human rights abuses and persecuting dissidents.
“Our government must urgently take action and hold the UAE and any other countries involved in this hacking accountable, otherwise British citizens will be open to abuse from every country in the world.
The number of the president of the Muslim Association of Britain, Raghad Altikriti, also appears on the list. She released the following statement:
And the number of Lady Uddin, an independent member of the House of Lords, appeared in the data in both 2017 and 2018. She said if there was spying on members of parliament it would amount to “a great breach of trust” which “contravenes our sovereignty.”
“If espionage is taking place against the highest of sovereign British institutions, questions arise regarding whether our government was aware,” she said.
NSO says that the fact that a number appeared on the leaked list is in no way indicative of whether a number was targeted for surveillance using its Pegasus system. “The list is not a list of Pegasus targets or potential targets,” the company said. “The numbers in the list are not related to NSO group in any way.”
The United Arab Emirates has so far not responded to multiple requests for comment.
A British government spokesperson said: “It is vital all cyber actors use capabilities in a way that is legal, responsible and proportionate to ensure cyberspace remains a safe and prosperous place for all.”