A dissident friend of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi believes his phone was hacked by Saudi authorities who intercepted messages critical of the country’s regime.
Khashoggi, 59, had sent messages to Saudi activist Omar Abdulaziz before his death through whatsapp.
However it later emerged that the messages were compromised along with the rest of Abdulaziz’s phone, which had allegedly been infected by Pegasus, a powerful piece of malware designed to spy on its users.
Omar Abdulaziz, (left), a friend of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, (right), believes his phone was hacked by Saudi authorities
Abdulaziz is now suing the creators of Pegasus, the Israel-based cyber company NSO Group, accusing them of violating international law by selling the software to oppressive regimes, CNN reported.
Mr Khashoggi disappeared on October 2 when he went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey alongside fiancee Hatice Cengiz to obtain divorce papers from his previous marriage so he could remarry.
Turkey concluded that he had been killed soon after walking into the embassy and his body dismembered by a team of Saudi assassins.
The Arab kingdom initially denied the killing. Saudi then changed its story several more times before finally acknowledging that he had been killed in a act of premeditated murder.
But Saudi denied accusations by the regime’s critics that Bin Salman had given the order, instead blaming ‘rogue elements’ of the state.
Researchers at the Citzen Lab have tracked the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus software to 45 countries where operators ‘may be conducting surveillance operations’.
This includes at least 10 Pegasus operators who ‘appear to be actively engaged in cross-border surveillance’.
Citizen Lab researchers claim that Abdulaziz received a text message disguised as a shipping update about a package he had just ordered.
Saudi officials have admitted that Khashoggi’s killing was a premeditated act carried out by state assassins, but deny that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured) gave the order
The link, which Citizen Lab says it traced to a domain connected to Pegasus, led to Abdulaziz’s phone becoming infected with the malware.
The software, able to infect a phone after a single click on a link in a fake text message, then grants hackers complete access to the phone, CNN reported.
Data stored on the phone, messages, phone calls and even GPS location data are visible, allowing hackers to see where someone is, who he or she is talking to, and about what.
This in turn gave hackers access to virtually his entire phone including his daily conversations with Khashoggi.
Abdulaziz believed their conversations, which were critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, may have been intercepted by Saudi authorities.
It is understood that Khashoggi learned that his conversations with Abdulaziz may have been intercepted and sent a text To him saying ‘God help us’ two months before his death on October 2.
Saudi opposition activist Omar Abdulaziz, 27, is suing the creators of Pegasus, accusing them of violating international law by selling malware to oppressive regimes
Saudi Arabia has denied accusations by the regime’s critics that Bin Salman had given the order, instead blaming ‘rogue elements’ of the state.
The country’s attorney general has sought the death penalty for five of 11 defendants charged with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as their high-profile trial opened in Riyadh earlier this month.
Seven of those men are bodyguards of the kingdom’s de-facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, who denies giving the order to kill him.
Mr Khashoggi’s body has yet to be found amid reports that it was given to a local ‘fixer’ who dissolved it in acid.
A still image taken from CCTV video and obtained by A News claims to Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancee entering their residence on the day he disappeared in Istanbul
In an given by NSO Group since the company was implicated in the Khashoggi case, CEO Shalev Hulio categorically denied any involvement in the tracking of the Saudi journalist or his killing.
He told CNN that his death was a ‘shocking murder’ and that the company would have known immediately if their software had been used to track a journalist.
Hulio added: ‘I’m saying on the record that after all these checks there was no use of any NSO product or technology on Khashoggi; and that includes tapping, monitoring, finding location, or gathering intelligence.
‘Exclamation mark! The story is simply not true’.
Hulio said the NSO Group can disconnect a client’s software if it is used inappropriately or against improper targets, like journalists or human rights activists who are just doing their jobs.
‘In cases where the system is misused, assuming we are aware of it, the technological system that we sold them will be immediately disconnected; that is something we are able to do both technologically and legally’.