(Adds U.S., European official sources, CNN report, paragraphs
By Noah Browning
DUBAI, June 7 A preliminary investigation has
confirmed that Qatar's state news agency was hacked, and false
statements attributed to the country's ruler were posted that
helped ignite a rift with other Gulf states, the Qatari foreign
ministry said on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and several
other countries cut their ties with Doha on Monday in part
because of comments posted briefly on the Qatar News Agency's
website on May 23.
The article quoted Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as
cautioning against confrontation with Iran, as well as defending
the Palestinian group Hamas and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi'ite
movement allied with Tehran.
"The Ministry said the investigation team confirmed that the
piracy process had used high techniques and innovative methods
by exploiting an electronic gap on the website of the Qatar News
Agency," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It did not say who might have carried out the hack.
U.S. and European officials said that while United States
government agencies and experts were convinced that the news
agency and the Qatari government's Twitter feed were hacked,
they have not yet determined who did the hacking.
A CNN report quoted unidentified U.S. officials briefed on
the investigation as saying that Russian hackers were suspected.
Moscow said the report was false.
One U.S. intelligence official said that while Russia has
the expertise and an incentive to sow division among Arab states
allied with the United States, Russian hackers were available
for hire to other countries and criminal groups.
Arab countries at odds with Qatar accuse it of supporting
militant groups and advancing their arch-rival Iran's agenda in
the region - charges Doha calls baseless.
U.S. military officials, also speaking anonymously to
discuss political issues, said the Al Udeid airbase in Qatar is
vital to American air support against Iranian paramilitaries and
Iranian-backed forces on the side of Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad in Syria's civil war.
Qatar's foreign ministry thanked the U.S. Federal Bureau of
Investigation and the British National Crime Agency for
cooperating in the investigation, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Noah Browning in Dubai; additional reporting by
Mark Hosenball and John Walcott in Washington; editing by Grant