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Saudi stooge spied for Riyadh on Twitter accounts of dissidents: Report

File photo illustration shows Twitter logos on a computer screen. (AFP photo)

A new report has shown that Saudi Arabia was enjoying the services of a stooge among the ranks of Twitter to spy on accounts of people who were critical of the kingdom.

The Saturday report published in The New York Times showed that Riyadh had groomed a Twitter employee, identified as Ali Alzabarah, to tap into dissident accounts until December 2015 when the American social media giant decided to fire the staffer.

The report said that Twitter had been told of the secret operation involving the insider and the Saudi government by certain Western officials. However, it said Twitter officials could never find evidences supporting the claims.

Twitter also refused to say anything when asked for further comments on the Times report, which also claimed that the Saudi royal family had hired hundreds of people on major social media networks to have the image of the kingdom improved.

The revelations come amid a scandal on the disappearance and death of a prominent Saudi journalist in Turkey earlier this month. Jamal Khashoggi, who had been living in exile in the United States since last year, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after he went to the diplomatic post to collect documents for a forthcoming marriage on October 2. Riyadh on Friday finally acknowledged Khashoggi had been killed in the facility.

A key figure behind Khashoggi’s death was Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who was fired by the Saudi royal court on Friday. Qahtani is believed to have engineered a wide range of secret operations to flood the social media with pro-Saudi messaging and smother the voices of dissenters.

Several American and Saudi officials have revealed to the Times that Qahtani had mobilized operatives to harass dissenters on Twitter since 2010, when popular movements in the Arab world led to the ouster of several autocratic regimes.

The Saudi government reportedly offered through an employer a sum of about $3,000 to every young man who was willing to tweet in favor of the Kingdom. That was revealed after specialists invited to interviews found about the political nature of the job.

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