The editorial offices of Kul al-Arab, Hagai Frid
The editorial offices of Kul al-Arab in Nazareth. Photo by Hagai Frid
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The CEO of the Arab Israeli newspaper Kul al-Arab was detained for questioning by the Northern District Police's fraud squad yesterday on suspicion of industrial espionage against competitor As-Sennara.

The espionage was allegedly carried out by installing a Trojan horse program on As-Sennara's computers and sabotaging its website.

Police believe the espionage program allowed the CEO and another Kul al-Arab employee to access articles stored on the As-Sennara computers and publish them ahead of the competition. Other staff members will also be questioned, police said.

A month ago, an As-Sennara employee was arrested on suspicion of working against his newspaper.

Both newspapers are based in Nazareth and publish in print and on the web. Both are also among the three most prominent Arabic newspapers in Israel (the third being Panorama ).

Police sources said the suspects not only denied the allegations, but claimed the investigation was a police conspiracy, and that police investigators had planted the incriminating program.

"The attack on us started two months ago," said Varia Mashour, who edits As-Sennara's website. One attack, at the beginning of Ramadan, brought the website down for two days.

Meanwhile, As-Sennara staffers said, they began finding their stories and pictures appearing in the rival newspaper before they themselves could publish them.

Mashour said the competitors had obtained not just material for publication, but also internal email correspondence, minutes of meetings and business decisions.

As-Sennara hired an information security company which found that an outside user had implanted a virus in the newspaper's website and a Trojan horse program in the computers themselves. This allowed the hackers to access stories, which then indeed appeared in Kul al-Arab.

"This is very sad," Mashour said. "Competition is good for journalism, but I never thought competition would sink to that level."

Kul al-Arab's attorney, Basha'er Fahoum, said she could not comment in detail at this stage of the investigation, but she strongly denied the allegations. She described the As-Sennara complaint as "much ado about nothing."

Sources at the newspaper stressed that the complaint was filed by a rival publication and said it was regrettable that police had rushed to announce the allegations even though the investigation was still in its early stages.

Newspaper wars are not unusual in the Israeli Arab community. The two newspapers involved in the latest clash have been embroiled in legal battles before, and have also exchanged verbal blows in their pages.