NSO Spyware Targeted Yemen War Crimes Investigator, Report Says

Kamel Jendoubi, who was chairman of the UN-backed panel tasked with investigating human rights violations and possible war crimes in Yemen, was targeted by the Israeli firm's Pegasus spyware in 2019

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Yemenis inspect the site of Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa in December.
Yemenis inspect the site of Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa in December.Credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS - AFP

NSO spyware was found on the phone of a UN-backed investigator probing potential war crimes in Yemen, just before he released a report condemning "serious violations of international humanitarian law,” a new forensic analysis reported by The Guardian found.

According to the report, the mobile phone of Kamel Jendoubi, a Tunisian national who served on the Group of Eminent Experts in Yemen (GEE) panel mandated by the UN to examine possible war crimes, was targeted in August 2019. Experts at Amnesty International and the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto conducted the analysis.

The spyware targeting Jendoubi supposedly came weeks before the release of a report by the expert panel that concluded “serious violations of international humanitarian law” that could lead to “criminal responsibility for war crimes” were committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The Guardian had previously reported that political and diplomatic experts claimed that Saudi Arabia used “incentives and threats” as part of a lobbying campaign to shut down the UN investigation.

Jendoubi is a critic of former president Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia and human rights activist, and served as chairman of the since-disbanded international expert panel tasked with investigating human rights violations in 2017.

In 2018, a Haaretz investigation reported that Israel's NSO offered Saudi intelligence authorities a system to hack cellphones, just months before the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a purge against his opponents.

Jendoubi’s phone number is among those leaked on a database at the center of the Pegasus Project investigation.

NSO’s technology allows its clients, usually state intelligence agencies, to remotely hack into cellphones. This includes iPhones, making use of a loophole in Apple’s defenses that was only recently made public.

In past months, world powers have ratcheted up the pressure on spyware companies like the NSO Group, following extensive revelations of how their software was used in a far-reaching crackdown on human rights activism, journalists and political opposition.

In the U.S., the Biden administration added NSO Group and another Israeli firm, Candiru, to a blacklist that bars U.S. companies from providing them with technology.

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