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FBI gave 'essential assistance' in Princess Latifa capture

FBI ‘provided essential assistance’ in 2018 capture of Dubai’s Princess Latifa: report
3 min read
08 July, 2021
The US security service allegedly obtained and shared details about the location of the princess from the internet service provider of the yacht she had used in her abortive escape attempt.
By helping Dubai's leader without going through the proper legal channels, experts say the US intelligence agency may have violated FBI protocols [Getty]

The FBI "provided assistance essential" to the capture of Dubai's Princess Latifa as she tried to flee the emirate in 2018, according to a new report. 

The US security service allegedly obtained and shared details about the location of the princess from the internet service provider of the yacht Nostromo, which she was travelling on when she was detained off the coast of Goa by Indian and Emirati special forces. 

A USA Today report on Wednesday cited sources who said the data was provided without the proper legal protocols - such as filing a subpoena to the yacht’s internet service provider - as the US believed they were responding to an urgent plea from Dubai's leader for help.

"The FBI truly believed this was a kidnapping case and the US was saving the day," a person with knowledge of the operation told the newspaper.

It is suspected that Princess Latifa's father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, contacted an FBI agent stationed in the US consulate in Dubai after hearing about his daughter leaving the emirate. 

The agent first contacted FBI headquarters in Washington about the incident and then, according to reports, the organisation was able to obtain information from the yacht's location via its internet service provider, US-based KVH - who tracked down Latifa after she used a private email account onboard the boat. 

"Latifa’s fatal mistake was she checked her email," one of the people familiar with the operation told USA Today. "That was the breakthrough. It was cross-checked with other information and databases in the area, and the Emiratis were able to figure out precisely which boat she was on, and where that boat was located."

In a statement, KVH said it "cooperates with law enforcement when compelled or permitted under existing laws, such as in emergencies involving potential death or serious injury."

While some intelligence officers have corroborated the story, others have questioned the likelihood of a senior US security department sidestepping international protocols. 

"I don't know of any internet service providers who would provide it (the data) without some kind of paperwork," said Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director who oversaw the bureau’s international operations division for five years. 

He said he knew of no cases in which agents acted unilaterally to assist. "I can’t imagine anyone doing that," he said. 

The sheikh, who is prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, said that he was protecting Latifa's life when carrying out what he calls "a rescue mission". 

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However, a British judge ruled in 2020 that Mohammed abducted Latifa, as well as her sister Shamsa who disappeared from the streets of Cambridge in 2000. 

In February, footage of the princess was released in which she claimed she was a "hostage" in a "jail villa". 

"I just want to be free," Princess Latifa said in the videos. 

Since then, a series of photographs of the princess have appeared on social media, including two of her with friends at a mall and later a restaurant in Dubai and one of her allegedly at an airport with a British friend. 

Following the release of these images, a statement was sent from the princess’ lawyers to reporters claiming she was free to travel anywhere she wanted.