A Saudi activist who regularly corresponded with slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has sued an Israeli spyware firm. He claims the company helped the Saudi government snoop on Khashoggi before his murder.
In the lawsuit, Montreal-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz claims that the Israeli firm, NSO Group, provided Saudi Arabia with powerful software which gave the Kingdom access to communications between himself and Khashoggi.
As a result, the Saudi government was allegedly made aware of a project that the pair were working on – “cyber bees” – an online youth movement aimed at holding the Kingdom accountable for “human rights abuses.”
In text exchanges obtained by CNN, Khashoggi told Abdulaziz that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a “beast” with an insatiable appetite for power.
“The more victims he eats, the more he wants,” Khashoggi reportedly wrote in May.
“I will not be surprised if the oppression will reach even those who are cheering him on.”
According to Abdulaziz, in August the two men began to suspect that their conversations were being intercepted and that the Saudi government was aware of their opposition project.
“God help us,” Khashoggi wrote to Abdulaziz. Two months later, he was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The lawsuit – which was filed in Israel by lawyers representing Abdulaziz – is far from the first legal trouble faced by the NSO Group. The company has previously been slapped with suits from citizens from Mexico and Qatar, who claim that the firm’s software was used to illegally hack their phones. Amnesty International has also recently accused the Israeli company of helping the Saudi government spy on their employees.
The NSO Group said that its software, known as Pegasus, provides governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to “lawfully fight terrorism and crime,” the New York Times reported.
Pegasus is also said to allow users to secretly listen to calls, record keystrokes, read messages and track internet history on a targeted mobile device. The software is capable of transforming a phone’s microphone and camera into surveillance devices.
Khashoggi was murdered in October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The journalist’s killing has created an international scandal, with some claiming that Mohammed bin Salman might have personally ordered the hit. International pressure on the West to halt arms sales and other ties to the Kingdom have been largely resisted by the United States, Canada, France, and the UK.