(EurActiv) ‘God help us’: Khashoggi’s hacked WhatsApp messages provide clues about killing

(EurActiv)

Saudi journalist and former editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan Jamal Khashoggi (R) attends the the opening ceremony of 11th edition of Arab Media Forum 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 8 May 2012. [EPA/ALI HAIDER]

Messages obtained from the WhatsApp account of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi shine a light on the possible reasons behind his death, depicting the full extent of his animosity towards Saudi Arabia and his plans to establish an “electronic army” of activists against the regime.

“The more victims he eats, the more he wants,” Khashoggi said in a message sent to Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, following a series of arrests of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. “I will not be surprised if the oppression will reach even those who are cheering him on.”

In other messages, the Washington Post journalist referred to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “beast”.

“Cyber bees”

In later WhatsApp exchanges between Khashoggi and Abdulaziz, the pair were seen to be plotting a digital offensive against the Saudi regime by establishing an “electronic army” of activists, dubbed the “cyber bees”, who would seek to challenge Saudi propaganda on social media.

Speaking to CNN, Abdulaziz said: “Twitter is the only tool they’re using to fight and to spread their rumours. We’ve been attacked, we’ve been insulted, we’d been threatened so many times, and we decided to do something.”

Research conducted by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found that military-grade spyware had been used to hack Abdulaziz’s mobile phone before Khashoggi’s death.

The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini called Saturday (20 October) for a thorough investigation into the “deeply troubling” death of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi and full accountability for those responsible.

The plot

Khashoggi and Abdulaziz’s plot centred around plans to purchase and distribute foreign sim cards to activists in Saudi Arabia which would allow dissidents to evade being traced by authorities. Khashoggi had originally pledged to bankroll the project to the tune of $30,000.

“I sent you some ideas about the electronic army. By email,” Abdulaziz writes to Khashoggi. The latter responded: “I will try to sort out the money. We have to do something.”

However, the text messages also reveal that fears arose about a suspected espionage campaign against Abdulaziz and Khashoggi by the Saudi authorities.

After becoming aware of the fact that the Saudis were most probably tracking their plans, Khashoggi writes to Abdulaziz: “God help us.”

The journalist went on to instruct Abdulaziz to no longer speak about the subject of the ‘cyber bees’ on social media.

Lawsuit

Meanwhile, Abdulaziz, who is still exiled in Canada, has accused an Israeli software company of being behind the hacking of his phone messages, which he believes directly led to the killing of Khashoggi.

On Sunday, the Saudi national filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group, under the allegation that it assisted the Saudi regime in gaining access to the WhatsApp exchange.

“The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal, I am really sorry to say,” Abdelaziz told CNN. “The guilt is killing me.”

The European Union should halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl told a German newspaper, saying such action could also help end “the terrible war in Yemen”.

EU stance

The EU has stood firm in its preference for those accountable to be held responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

At the recent G20 meeting of world leaders in Buenos Aires, EU Council President Donald Tusk announced that there was an “urgent need to establish what happened” to Khashoggi.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the “importance of a full, credible, transparent investigation that identifies those who were involved and the importance of ensuring that those who were involved are held to account.”

In addition, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has called for a complete investigation into the “deeply troubling” death of Khashoggi.

In a joint statement published at the end of October, Germany, the UK and France also took a unified approach, saying that “nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”