The ongoing Qatar crisis could have stemmed from a fake news story that the FBI believes was planted by Russian hackers. A few days after the story was published, Saudi Arabia and several other allies severed relations with the nation.
Last month Qatar's official news agency was hacked and a fake news story ostensibly quoting the country's Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was published through it. The story had statements that hinted at friendship with Iran, a long-time adversary of Saudi Arabia, and recognised Hamas as the "official representative of Palestinians." It also questioned whether the US president, Donald Trump, would last in office.
Doha called it a false story and vowed to find out who was behind the mischief and asked for US help to solve the news agency hack. A report by CNN says FBI officials who analysed the content believe Russian hackers took control of the news agency, although it did not mention if the hackers were sponsored directly by the Russian government.
False or not, other nations did not take the news well and shortly after it was published, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with the Qatar and cut air, sea and land links. Several other countries like Maldives and Libya also plan to cut transport links with the Gulf nation, spiralling the incident into the worst diplomatic crisis in the Middle-East in decades.
The official reason given by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations for severing the ties has been that Qatar has been funding terrorism. Trump also seemed to say on Twitter that the action by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries were over terrorism links.
What if Russia is involved?
The alleged involvement of Russian hackers would escalate concerns regarding deliberate efforts to undermine US foreign policy. Russian state-sponsored hackers have been accused of meddling with elections in many countries including the US, Germany and Netherlands. Russian hackers tried to influence the French elections as well.
The FBI and CIA have not commented on the matter publicly and a spokeswoman for the Qatari embassy in Washington said results of the ongoing investigation would be released publicly soon. Meanwhile, Qatar is treating the blockade as a one-sided affair and says it is ready to resolve the crisis diplomatically as it is the result of a huge misunderstanding caused by mischief-makers.
"Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis is being based on misinformation," Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN.