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US summons for UAE, Saudi crown princes in Al Jazeera hacking case

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a signing ceremony following a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 14, 2019. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 14 October 2019 [ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images]

A US court has summoned the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in the hacking case against them.

Both crown princes are accused of having ordered the hacking of the phone belonging to Al Jazeera news anchor Ghada Oueiss, with a lawsuit against both figures filed in the US District Court in Florida earlier this month.

Oueiss posted pictures of the court summons on her Twitter profile on Saturday, telling the crown princes "You've been served."

The lawsuit stated: "Obsessed with maintaining a polished standing, the de facto rulers of the UAE and Saudi regimes are determined to whitewash their public images in the eyes of the American government and its citizens."

"One way to accomplish this goal is to eviscerate all critics of their regimes – no matter the veracity of the critics' statements about the regimes," it continued. "Each actor must be held responsible for their unlawful actions and Conspiracy against Ms. Oueiss, and this lawsuit marks the beginning of a journey toward justice for Ms. Oueiss."

Following the filing of her lawsuit, it was then revealed over a week ago that advanced Israeli spyware – most likely harnessed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE again – had hacked the devices of dozens of journalists, presenters, and other employees at Al Jazeera for months on end.

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The court has given both defendant crown princes up till 5 January to respond to the summons, with a US judge being able to issue a judgement without their input if there is no response. Other defendants in the lawsuit include top Emirati and Saudi officials such as MBS's former aide Saud Al-Qahtani. The Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya is also included in the list.

An objective of the lawsuit is for a judgement to bar any of the defendants from conducting such activities in the future and the seeking of compensation over $5,000 for the damages caused by the hacking attack on Oueiss, which included the leaking of personal data, the doctoring of nude photos, and the manipulation of documents claiming Qatari payments to her and other journalists.

This lawsuit and court summons is the latest to hit MBS this year, coming after a previous lawsuit by former Saudi intelligence chief Saad Al-Jabri who the crown prince reportedly attempted to assassinate using a hit squad in Canada where Al-Jabri resides. A lawsuit was also filed by the fiancée of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was believed to have been assassinated by the crown prince's hit squad in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago.

Earlier this month, MBS asked the US to dismiss the lawsuit by Al-Jabri due to "flaws", with the administration of President Donald Trump reportedly considering doing so and granting the crown prince immunity.

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