AMMAN: Almost 200 phones belonging to Jordanian journalists, activists and members of the royal court were among the thousands targeted in the hacking scandal linked to Israeli companies, a local news agency has revealed.
Samir Hiari, the publisher of Ammon News, said he was alerted to the breaches by a Reuters journalist who was doing a report on the subject.
The report revealed that Apple had sent messages about a possible security breach to several Jordanians, including lawyer Hala Ahed, social media influencer Deema Amad and Senator Mustafa Hamarneh.
“Once we collected the info we discovered that a little bit less than 200 — among them royal court and Olympic committee members and activists — were victims of the hacking, which included scrapping everything on their phones, including WhatsApp content, messages, photos, videos and text messages,” he said.
Ammon News reporter Ahmad Hiari quoted a US source as saying it was still unclear if “any local parties cooperated with Tel Aviv in the (phone) hacking.”
Rana Sabbagh, co-founder and former executive director of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, told Arab News how she discovered that her phones had been hacked.
“A friend told me that they received a message from Apple ... so I decided to send both my phones to OCCRP data security experts to be tested.”
Sabbagh, who is now a senior editor at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, said the forensic test showed the two phones had been compromised.
“We found that they had been hacked in July 2020 and in April 2021. Another colleague from the same organization discovered their phone was hacked in September 2021,” she said.
Sabbagh, a veteran Jordanian reporter and former chief editor at the Jordan Times, said that the dates were important as it was just before the publication of the Pandora Papers.
“It is really worrisome … we know generally that we are being always checked but what upsets me is that I don’t want my sources to be hurt.
“It is upsetting when you discover that your entire life has been invaded in a mega way. They took away all our documents, photos and videos. I am not sure if the attack is local or international.”
Hiari said that he was worried about how the hacked information might be used.
“I know that there is always an effort to listen to our phones. This action is inhuman and illegal and we know this happens. I am worried about how the info is being used.
“I am worried about people being blackmailed, we need international protection,” he added.
Neither Hiari or Sabbagh would say if they thought local parties were involved in the hacking of the Jordanian phones.
Hiari said: “We don’t have any information about local parties, but our international contacts assured us that the software that was used against Jordanian phones was used and bought from external countries.”
Botrus Mansour, a Palestinian lawyer and citizen of Israel, told Arab News that the Israeli-created Pegasus software was part of Israel’s security ecosystem.
The system had been used not only used against Palestinians and others around the world but also to hack the phones of Israelis, including directors of ministries and mayors without any legal warrants or criminal suspicion, he said.
“The occupation has corrupted Israeli morality inside Israel, and what happens in the occupied territories is reflected inside Israel itself and has caused a major erosion of Israeli democratic values even against Israelis — a phenomena accelerated by the attempts of the last Israeli prime minister to escape court.”
Wadie Abu Nassar, a Haifa-based commentator on Israeli politics, told Arab News that Israel had crossed moral red lines before.
“Espionage is an old habit in Israel,” he said. “The red line was crossed long ago but it is revealed now and with an indication it was systematically used against everybody.”