UAE 'financed smear campaign' against Islamic charity by 'hiring Geneva-based hacking firm'

UAE 'financed smear campaign' against Islamic charity by 'hiring Geneva-based hacking firm'
2 min read
30 March, 2023
The UAE has been accused of financing a smear campaign against UK charity Islamic Relief by hiring a Geneva-based intelligence firm intent on ruining reputations.
Islamic Relief is a humanitarian organisation that works in conflict zones across the world [Getty]

The UAE is accused of financing smear campaigns against the Islamic Relief charity and other individuals and groups, by paying online investigators to allege they are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and more extreme Islamist organisations. 

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed purportedly hired the services of Gevena-based private intelligence firm Alp Services in a ploy to discredit opponents through the mass dissemination of false information, The New Yorker reported. 

The New Arab contacted Alp Services and the UAE embassy in London for comment but did not receive a response from either party. 

Islamic Relief Worldwide, founded in 1984 by an Egyptian-born medical student, was targeted by Mario Brero, the owner of Alp Services, on the orders of the Emirati authorities with the objective of ruining its reputation, the report said. 

Brero pitched the idea of destroying the charity by alleging it had "hidden links with terrorism".  

As part of the campaign, it was heavily emphasised that Heshmat Khalifa, a member of the board of trustees, was "a terrorist at the top of Islamic Relief". 

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The claims were made on the basis that Khalifa had worked with an Egyptian humanitarian organisation in Bosnia at a time that Islamist extremists were active in the war there.

These claims were not picked up by mainstream media outlets. 

However, later Alp Services reportedly combed through Khalifa’s Facebook account and found "antisemitic statements" shared during the 2014 Gaza War. Brero then leaked the quotes "piece by piece" to journalists.

Afterward, Islamic Relief removed three officials, and condemned Khalifa for the "hate comments". The charity also paid for outside audits and spent time and energy restoring its relations with the UK government. 

Waseem Ahmad Islamic Relief’s Worldwide chief executive said: "It's just hurt and delayed our humanitarian work." 

Another target of Alp Services was Hazim Nada, founder of Lord Energy, who discovered through online hackers that a smear campaign had linked him to extremists.

The intention was to destroy all his business enterprises, particularly his involvement in the oil trade. Nada is the son of Youssef Nada, a businessman who joined the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1947.

The New Yorker says the UAE hired Alp Services as part of its feud with Qatar, which reached its height in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar severed ties with Doha.