World News

Iran state media accuses Saudis of planting false news story

Posted July 18
Updated July 27

A state-run Iranian news agency has accused Saudi hackers of planting a fabricated news story on its Twitter account, as a crisis in the Gulf centered around Qatar deepens.

A tweet was posted on the account of state-run Alalam news agency on Sunday in Arabic, claiming that Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to establish an Iranian military base in Qatar. The tweet -- which is still visible -- did not link to any story on the Alalam website.

The tweet, if it were true, would likely inflame tensions in the region between Qatar and a quartet of countries led by Saudi Arabia, which has frozen trade and diplomatic ties with Qatar, claiming it supports terror organizations. Qatar has vehemently denied those claims.

The boycott followed news stories published online on Qatari state media that quoted Al Thani, Qatar's emir, calling Iran a regional Islamic power and describing Qatari relations with Israel as good. Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic ties with Iran or Israel, and it sees Iran as a key rival.

In a statement issued Monday, Alalam said: "Alalam News Network categorically denies spurious and bogus stories which are published via its hacked Twitter account."

It said the story about the military base was fake, and the decision by Saudi media to republish them showed they were colluding with the hackers.

"Saudi news agencies and websites, though fully aware of the fact that Alalam's Twitter account has been hacked, publish these false news stories immediately, designating their collusion with the hackers," the statement said.

Saudi officials did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment and have not publicly responded to Alalam's accusations.

Alalam said in its statement that it had been under a series of cyber-attacks for days.

Last week, it published a story accusing Saudi hackers of breaking into its Twitter account. Alalam said Monday it had control of the account on and off in the past week and was currently locked out.

The news agency has said that it believes Saudi hackers were behind the earlier breaches as a Saudi flag appeared as a banner image on its Twitter account last week while it was compromised.

Alalam has offered no other evidence that Saudi Arabia was behind the hacks or was responsible for Sunday's tweet on the military base.

The Twitter account is still under the control of hackers, the news agency has said. On July 14, during a window when Alalam said it had control of the account, the news agency pinned a tweet explaining that it had lost its blue tick -- a mark used by Twitter to show an account has been verified -- since being hacked.

Qatari crisis

The Gulf in June plunged into its worst diplomatic crisis in decades when Saudi Arabia and several allies announced they were cutting ties with Qatar and later delivered a list of 13 demands to the country. Qatar has so far refused to comply to the demands, one of which includes severing ties with Iran.

CNN obtained documents earlier this month detailing a series of agreements between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors in 2013 and 2014, which barred support for opposition and hostile groups in those nations. The Gulf nations have accused Qatar of not complying with the agreements, which is thought to have contributed to the current standoff.

On Monday, the UAE denied it was behind the hack on the Qatari state news and social media websites that contributed to the current crisis.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash said Monday that a story reported by the Washington Post accusing the UAE of that attack was false. That story, the Washington Post said, was based on information by unnamed US officials.

"The Washington Post story is not true, purely not true," he said responding to a question after a speech at Chatham House in London. He said that the story "will die" in the next few days.

But Qatar said that the Washington Post report proved its version of events, that its websites were hacked and that quotes were fabricated and published.

In June, US investigators told CNN that they believed Russian hackers breached the Qatari sites and planted false information and quotes.

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