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Saudi opponent sues Israeli spyware firm over Khashoggi murder

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People hold posters picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a lighted candle during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 25, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A Saudi opponent and a friend of Jamal Khashoggi has filed a lawsuit against an Israeli spyware firm for helping Riyadh spy on his communications and kill the dissident journalist.

The New York Times reported that Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist and Canadian permanent resident, is accusing Israel’s NSO Group Technologies of hacking his phone in the service of the Saudi regime.

The lawsuit was filed in Israel by Alaa Mahajna, an Israeli lawyer, in cooperation with Mazen Masri, a lecturer at the City University of London, according to the report.

Mahajna said they intend to argue that the resulting exposure of the cooperation between Abdulaziz and Khashoggi “contributed in a significant manner to the decision to murder Mr Khashoggi.”

The activist said he was repeatedly pressed by the same operatives who have been linked to the assassination of Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia. He reportedly has recordings of some of the conversations.

According to court papers, Omar received a text message that “looked like a link to track the shipment of a package but turned out to mask a link to the NSO Group’s spyware,” a month after the contacts.

He was later notified by Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab that the Saudi government hacked his phone.

The NSO Group has been under much controversy and scrutiny over the past years, with Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab saying that the Pegasus software marketed by the company is being used by a number of countries “with dubious human rights records and histories of abusive behavior by state security services.”

Late in November, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz revealed Riyadh’s behind-the-scenes attempts to buy Pegasus 3 technology from Israel’s NSO Group Technologies last year.

The spyware needs only a phone number to ensnare a device. As soon as a phone is breached, the speaker and camera can be used for recording conversations, according to the report. Even encoded apps like WhatsApp can be monitored via the spying software, it added.

The lawsuit also said that just after his phone was breached, Saudi forces raided the home of Abdulaziz’s family in Jeddah and detained two of his brothers who remain in custody.

Last month, former US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden said Saudi Arabia may have used Pegasus spyware, developed by NSO Group to track Khashoggi.

“The Saudis, of course, knew that Khashoggi was going to go to the consulate, as he got an appointment. But how did they know his intention and plans?” he said.


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