UAE espionage rattles Belgium: Ambassador summoned

Brussels (Caasimada Online) – In response to allegations of a clandestine operation aimed at tarnishing reputations, Belgium summoned the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador in Brussels for a full inquiry.

This move followed accusations of the Gulf nation’s involvement in a disinformation campaign to falsely associate at least 1,000 European individuals and entities with the Muslim Brotherhood, as unveiled by a report last Friday.

From 2017 to 2020, a Swiss private intelligence firm, Alp Services, generated profiles of individuals from 18 European countries and 400 organizations.

The operation, allegedly commissioned by Emirati intelligence, was exposed via 78,000 confidential documents obtained by the French digital newspaper, Mediapart and later shared with the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC).

The documents contained a detailed infographic to fabricate links between hundreds of individuals and extremist activities.

Belgium’s stake: A federal minister among the targeted

Of the targeted entities, 80 organizations and 160 individuals were Belgian, including Zakia Khattabi, Belgium’s federal minister for environment and sustainability.

Rejecting these baseless claims, Khattabi told French publisher Le Soir, “I hope the research did not cost much because everything is false.”

She categorically denied any association, near or far, with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Her party, Ecolo, also falsely implicated, vehemently denounced the UAE’s alleged participation in the disinformation campaign.

The party described the UAE’s actions as “scandalous” and “emblematic of the antidemocratic practices of this regime.”

Counterclaims and Reactions

Meanwhile, political scientist Fouad Gandoul, another Belgian named in the scheme, likened the experience to a “James Bond film.”

He, too, refuted any connection with the Muslim Brotherhood. As per Le Soir, Gandoul was implicated due to his past association with a now-defunct organization advocating progressive Muslim voices.

The UAE allegedly remunerated Alp Services with sums ranging between 20,000 and 50,000 euros per target, amounting to at least 5.7m euros.

Besides crafting defamatory media campaigns, Alp reportedly tampered with Wikipedia pages and aimed to prompt banks into closing specific accounts.

More than 200 individuals and 120 organizations in France were also subjects of Alp’s smear campaign.

Prominent among them was former leftist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, who confessed to continuous and baseless attacks on his social network posts since his candidacy.

Response from UAE and Alp services

When approached by EIC, UAE officials did not provide a comment. Alp Services insisted that their actions were based on “stolen data.”

They raised doubts about potential falsifications in their received documents.

The UAE has previously been reported to finance smear campaigns by Alp, as stated by the New Yorker in March.

Precisely, a campaign was allegedly orchestrated against UK-based charity Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), falsely linking the organization and its officials to the Muslim Brotherhood and violent extremists.

This move followed the UAE’s 2014 decision to place IRW, among other leading Muslim organizations, on its list of outlawed “terror” groups – a charge categorically denied by the IRW.