American investigators suspect that the Qatari state news agency was breached by Russian hackers who then proceeded to plant a fake news story that led to the breaking of ties between the Gulf state and its neighbors, CNN reported early on Wednesday.
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According to CNN, FBI investigators were in Qatar to help the government there probe the incident.
Monday's bombshell came amid reports saying Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, objected to Washington's and the Gulf states' hostility toward Iran, which he considered “a great state that contributes to regional stability.” He also allegedly said that Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood weren't terrorist organizations but rather resistance movements.
Qatar denied that the emir made that statement and claimed that hackers broke into the Qatari news agency's website and planted those quotes. Qatari spokesmen had earlier said it was a conspiracy between the UAE and a pro-Israel lobby working in Washington.
The CIA and the FBI refused to comment on the CNN story.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated move on Monday, accusing the tiny Gulf state of supporting terrorism. On Tuesday, Jordan announced that it will downgrade its diplomatic representation with Qatar.
The United States is communicating with all the parties in the Middle East "to resolve issues and restore cooperation" after several countries moved to break diplomatic ties with Qatar, a White House spokesman said on Tuesday, after President Donald Trump praised Middle East countries' actions against the American ally.
Russia is meanwhile also suspected of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. On Monday, The Intercept quoted a top-secret National Security Agency report as saying that Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier and sent malware to over 100 local government officials in the days before the 2016 U.S. elections