Khashoggi wife readying to sue Israel’s NSO for alleged phone hacking

The wife of Saudi journalist slain Jamal Khashoggi was planning to file a US lawsuit against NSO Group, alleging the Israeli firm’s Pegasus spyware was used to hack her cellphone.

Hanan Elatr, who married Khashoggi months before he was killed and his body dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, also intended to sue Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly targeting her phone Pegasus, the Guardian reported Thursday.

“It is important to make everyone involved in this horrible crime accountable. My husband was a peaceful man. I believe in American justice,” Elatr, who is living in the US and seeking asylum there, was quoted as saying.

To assist her suit, Elatr is hoping to acquire several electronic devices belonging to Khashoggi that Turkish authorities are believed to possess. Her legal counsel sought to obtain the devices from the Turkish embassy in Washington last year but was told she must file a legal application in Turkey.

Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard, who led a UN probe into Khashoggi’s murder, voiced support for Elatr’s efforts.

“The Turkish government has been clear that it does not intend to proceed with the investigation and the trial,” Callamard said in a statement, referring to a Turkish court’s decision in April to suspend the trial of 26 suspects and send the case to Saudi Arabia.

“It should therefore hand over any evidence still in its hands to those that are truly and authentically determined to reveal the truth about Jamal’s killing,” she added.

“Determining whether his phones had been hacked, whether he was under digital surveillance, identifying the spywares – these are all crucial elements both for the purpose of truth-telling and for understanding and preventing targeting of dissidents.”

Then-UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard answers questions on a report of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on June 19, 2019, in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Callamard also said Turkish officials rebuffed her previous requests for Khashoggi’s electronic devices to be examined by other cyber experts, such as at the FBI.

NSO has asserted that its spyware was never used to attack the phones of Khashoggi or Elatr before the killing of the prominent Saudi critic.

According to a Washington Post report last year, the spyware was placed on Elatr’s phone while she was being interrogated by security agents at the Dubai Airport months before Khashoggi was killed. The Citizen Lab research group said the spying was carried out by a United Arab Emirates customer, and the US newspaper claimed it was a UAE government agency.

Elatr, who is Egyptian, and Khashoggi were married in an Islamic ceremony in 2018 that was later certified by a Virginia-based cleric. According to the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist at the time of his killing, she was the Saudi journalist’s fourth wife after he had divorced the previous three.

Before he was killed in the consulate in Istanbul, Khashoggi had been accompanied there by his Turkish fiancé Hatice Cengiz. In a 2018 column for the New York Times, Cengiz said Khashoggi went to the consulate for a document certifying his divorce, but did not specify if it was from Elatr.

NSO Group has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments spy on dissidents and rights activists. NSO insists its product is meant only to assist countries in fighting crime and terrorism.

The issue has become a diplomatic concern with numerous Israeli allies, who have demanded answers after reports have revealed the software was being used within their countries. The US Department of Commerce has blacklisted NSO, restricting the Herzliya-based firm’s ties with American companies over allegations that it “enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression.”

NSO also faces lawsuits from Apple and Facebook accusing the Israeli firm of breaking into their products.

In this file photo, a photographic illustration shows a mobile phone near the NSO Group company logo in the Israeli city of Netanya on February 9, 2022. (Jack Guez / AFP)

The company has also been hurt by an Israeli decision late last year to tighten its supervision of cyber exports. That decision, made in the wake of criticism that Israel’s oversight of the digital surveillance industry was too lax, has reduced the number of countries that can purchase Israeli cyber software from more than 100 to 37.

Agencies contributed to this report.