Morocco hits back at Pegasus spyware claims with French libel suit

Morocco hits back at Pegasus spyware claims with French libel suit
Moroccan authorities hit back at Amnesty International and a French NGO on Thursday after a damning report claimed its intelligence services used the Israeli Pegasus mobile phone spyware against dozens of French journalists.
2 min read
22 July, 2021
Morocco filed a lawsuit in France [Getty]

Morocco has filed defamation claims against Amnesty International and a French NGO who claim its intelligence services used the Pegasus mobile phone spyware against dozens of French journalists, lawyers for the government said Thursday.

Paris prosecutors opened their own inquiry this week into the claims by Amnesty and the French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, revealed by media outlets including The Washington Post and French daily Le Monde.

They are based on a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers allegedly targeted by the Pegasus cellphone surveillance programme from Israel's NSO Group.

"The Moroccan state... wants all possible light cast on these false allegations from these two organisations, who make claims without any concrete or demonstrative evidence whatsoever," the lawyer, Olivier Baratelli, said in a statement.

A first hearing is set for October 8 in Paris, though a trial might not open for another two years.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI's phone and those of other royals are also on the list of numbers identified as potential Pegasus targets by Moroccan intelligence services, Radio France reported on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron called an urgent national security meeting on Thursday to discuss the reports about Pegasus' use in France.

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Evidence of an attempted hacking was found on the phone of former environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy, with the attempt allegedly originating in Morocco.

Morocco has denied the claims, saying this week that it "never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices".

Its government "does not intend to let the multiple lies and fake news spread these past few days go unpunished", Baratelli said.

Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can switch on a target's phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning a phone into a pocket spy.

In some cases, the software can be installed without the need to trick a user into initiating a download.

NSO Group - the Israeli firm that developed the programme - has denied selling the software to authoritarian governments for the purposes of spying on dissenters, and insists it is only intended for use as a counter-terror and anti-crime tool.