Israeli Pegasus spyware 'used to break into phones of nine Bahraini activists'

Israeli Pegasus spyware 'used to break into phones of nine Bahraini activists'
Israeli Pegasus software has been used to hack into phones of Bahraini dissidents associated with several political groups, including the left-wing Waad and Shia Al-Wefaq parties
2 min read
26 August, 2021
The Pegasus spyware was created by Israeli firm NSO Group [Getty]

Israeli Pegasus spyware has used to break into the iPhones of nine Bahraini activists from mid-2020 to early 2021, the Citizen Lab research group said.

Pegasus is the infamous software created by Israeli firm NSO Group, which has been the subject of a media and political scandal in recent weeks over the use of its technology by repressive regimes.

Three of those whose devices were compromised belonged to the left-wing Waad party, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Citizen Lab, which is based at the University of Toronto.

Three others were with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, while banned Shia party Al-Wefaq had one individual hit.

The last two were Bahraini dissidents residing in exile.

Per the Citizen Lab, a minimum of four of those targeted were hit by LULU, which the report called "a Pegasus operation that we attribute with high confidence to the government of Bahrain".

Live Story

The Bahrain government was described as "a well-known abuser of spyware" in the Citizen Lab report.

The window of infection was from June last year to this February, according to the report and of those whose devices were infected, two live in London.

At least one of the two was there at the time they were compromised.

Given that Bahraini authorities have only been identified employing Pegasus within their own borders and in Qatar, the Citizen Lab surmised that the London hacking could be linked to another state.

The team behind the report also provided the mobile numbers which were attacked to Forbidden Stories, a media NGO with access to a register of over 50,000 numbers believed to be chosen as "of potential interest" by state users of the Pegasus spyware.

The list goes back as far as 2016, The Guardian said.

Forbidden Stories said numbers linked to five compromised phones were among those supplied by the Citizen Lab, according to the laboratory's report.

A Bahraini government spokesman told The Guardian that "these claims are based on unfounded allegations and misguided conclusions."

He said the government was dedicated to protecting "the individuals' rights and freedoms".

The Israeli NSO Group told The Guardian that it was not given access to Citizen Lab data and was therefore unable to reply to "rumours" of its conclusions, adding that it "always" probes credible allegations of abuse of its software.

The New Arab contacted NSO Group for comment after The Citizen Lab report was made publicly available.