Russian hackers planted a fake news report on Qatar’s state news site that contributed to the breakdown of diplomatic ties among several Gulf states, CNN reported on Tuesday evening.
CNN reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials briefed on the investigation, that the Qatari government reported the breach two weeks ago. The false report in question “attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office,” the Qatari government said, according to the report.
U.S. officials told CNN that the goal of the breach was apparently to “cause rifts among the U.S. and its allies” and said it was unclear whether the hackers were those responsible for attempted interference in the 2016 election.
One official did note to CNN, however, that “not much happens” in Russia “without the blessing of the government.”
In the wake of Trump’s first trip abroad after taking office, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and broke off diplomatic relations. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government also cut ties.
Trump on Tuesday appeared to cut ties with Qatar, which is a U.S. ally and hosts a major U.S. airbase, via Twitter.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” he tweeted. “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off.”
Both U.S. and Qatari officials told CNN that the FBI recently sent a team to help investigate the alleged hacking, and the director of the Qatari Government Communications Office confirmed that Qatar is working with the FBI on an ongoing investigation.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the “entire crisis” was “based on misinformation.”
“It was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI,” he told CNN. “Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation.”