Phone numbers used by two Dubai princesses have reportedly been found as part of an investigation into the phone hacking spyware known as Pegasus.
In mid-February, BBC Panorama broadcast a secret video from Princess Latifa in which she said she was being held as a hostage by her father and feared for her life.
Her father is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 71, the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of Dubai.
Princess Haya Bint al-Hussain is his former wife who, fled Dubai in 2019 saying she feared for her life.
The UAE denies both women’s allegations.
Their phone numbers are apparently on a list of some 50,000 phone numbers of people believed to be of interest to clients of Israeli-based firm NSO Group and which was leaked to major news outlets.
The discovery of the princesses’ numbers on the list – and those of several acquaintances – has raised questions about whether they could have been the possible target of a government client of NSO group.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has issued a statement alleging that the discovery implicates the group “in the catalogue of human rights violations” allegedly inflicted on the two women, and calls for regulation to rein in “an unchecked surveillance industry”.
NSO denies any wrongdoing and says the software is intended for use against criminals and terrorists, and is made available only to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies with good human rights records.
The original investigation which led to the reports – by Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International – was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”, the Israel-based group said.
The reports are part of a series of news articles suggesting thousands of prominent people have been targeted.
A senior Israeli official confirmed to the BBC that the Israeli government had set up a team to examine allegations about the Pegasus software.
Latifa told the BBC earlier this year that she had been kidnapped and imprisoned after trying to escape Dubai on a boat across the Indian Ocean in 2018. She alleged she was seized from a yacht and taken back to Dubai and imprisoned in a villa converted into a jail.
The story prompted an international outcry. After the UN demanded proof of life, Dubai’s royal family said she was “being cared for at home”.
Although she has not been heard from in months, photos allegedly showing her in public and even travelling have appeared on an acquaintance’s Instagram profile in recent months.
Haya has accused her ex-husband of abduction, torture and a campaign of intimidation. A London court published the allegations in a series of judgements last year.
According to the documents, her marriage fell apart after she became suspicious about what happened to Latifa, as well as another of her ex-husband’s children, Sheikha Shamsa.
She fled to the UK in April 2019 with her two children. The court heard last year that veiled threats from Sheikh Mohammed had left her terrified for her own safety, as well as fears that her children could be abducted and forcibly returned to Dubai.