UAE Conducted Smear Campaign Against Opponents in Europe

An investigative report by the left-wing French journal, Mediapart, has exposed a secretive smear campaign allegedly carried out by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) against Qatari-linked Islamic groups in Europe.

According to the report, the UAE enlisted a private Swiss intelligence agency’s services to tarnish its opponents’ reputation amid a complex regional cold war with Qatar over support for Sunni extremism.

The Abu Dhabi Secrets saga came to light when Mediapart obtained hacked documents indicating a wide-ranging influence operation funded by the UAE to undermine Islamic groups in Europe. The motivation behind the campaign was rooted in the rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, two Gulf States with conflicting interests.

The alleged campaign began in 2017 during a diplomatic dispute between the UAE and Qatar. Emirati officials engaged a private Swiss intelligence firm, Alp Services, to target Qatari-linked groups operating in Europe. The objective was to associate these groups with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization through media-filtered stories.

Under a €5.7 million contract negotiated by the UAE intelligence services, Alp Services was provided with the names of approximately one thousand opponents of the UAE regime residing in Europe. The Swiss agency conducted extensive research to design successful hit pieces against them, linking them to the criminal Islamist terror group, the Muslim Brotherhood, known for its close ties with Qatar.

The UAE’s move came amidst a significant 2017 Gulf diplomatic rift over Qatar’s alleged support for Sunni militant groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the rift, the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia severed ties with Qatar and imposed a partial economic blockade.

Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards Sunni extremism, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that Islamic populism could threaten their regimes. The UAE, in particular, has fought against the group for over a decade since the Arab Spring.

Alp Services, a Geneva-based “reputation management” firm, is led by veteran Swiss spy Mario Brero, known for his involvement in smear campaigns. The firm used pressure groups, experts, and paid researchers to disseminate crucial information to the media on behalf of the UAE.

Among the targets was Hazim Nada, a German-based businessman and son of an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader. His oil company collapsed due to accusations spread by Alp Services that he was funding terrorism. The UAE also targeted the Belgian environment minister, Zakia Khattabi, leading to the UAE ambassador to Brussels being questioned by the Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

One researcher involved in the UAE contract with Alp Services was Dr Lorenzo Vidino, an academic at George Washington University specializing in countering Islamic extremism. Dr Vidino defended his work with Alp Services, stating that it merely exposed existing Qatari links to extremism, irrespective of the controversy.

The allegations of UAE-funded smear campaigns come during increased scrutiny of foreign influence operations in Europe following the Qatargate revelations. Alp Services did not respond to inquiries regarding its relationship with the UAE, as reported by The European Conservative.

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