An investigation has revealed that Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum – also known as Princess Latifa – who was running away from her father, the ruler of Dubai, when her escape was thwarted after a dramatic raid of her yacht in 2018, was captured using the Israeli phone hacking spyware Pegasus.
According to the American daily newspaper Washington Post, phone numbers belonging to friends and associates of the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, were apparently on a list of some 50,000 phone numbers of people believed to be of interest to clients of Israeli-based firm NSO Group.
The numbers were added in February 2018 in the hours and days after the princess escaped Dubai with the help of her friend Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish capoeira instructor.
On March 4 that year, Princess Latifa, then 32, had been at sea for eight days and had traveled as far as India's Malabar coast, when Indian army commandos violently boarded the US-registered yacht Nostromo she was traveling on.
The armed men bound her wrists and dragged her off the boat. They had been sent by the princess's father and returned her to Dubai.
Last year, a British judge ruled that Sheikh Mohammed was keeping both Latifa and her sister Shamsa captive and had kidnapped the two on separate occasions.
Back in February, 35-year-old Sheikha Latifa said in a video broadcast by the BBC’s investigative news program Panorama that she was being held “hostage” in a locked villa surrounded by police.
“I am a hostage and this villa has been converted into a jail,” she said at the time. “All the windows are barred shut, I can’t open any window.”
The UAE princess said she was making the video in the bathroom of the villa, which is the only room she could lock herself into.
Appearing alert and speaking calmly, Latifa said in the video that there were police officers stationed outside and inside the villa. “I just want to be free,” she noted.
The UN says the UAE has failed to provide compelling proof that Sheikha Latifa — last seen in late 2018 — is still alive.
On April 9, UN spokesperson Marta Hurtado told a briefing in Geneva that the UAE had not responded to its request or clarified the conditions in which Latifa was apparently being held.
“We haven’t got any proof of life, and we would like one, one that is clear compelling evidence that she is alive. Our first concern of course is to be sure of that, that she is still alive,” Hurtado said.
Princess Latifa drew international attention in 2018, when she announced in a video that she was fleeing the UAE because of mistreatment and restrictions imposed by her family.
However, a source close to the Dubai government said on April 17 that year that the runaway princess “was brought back” to the Persian Gulf state.
The Washington Post also reported that the Emirati authorities appeared to have also entered numbers linked to Princess Haya bint Hussein, Sheikh Mohammed's then-wife, into the Pegasus list.
Princess Haya, the half-sister of Jordan's King Abdullah II, told a British court during a custody battle with her former husband that she had expressed concern for Princess Latifa's wellbeing after she was returned to Dubai.