All the bad guys loved an Uzi. Now Israeli cyberspies are the autocrat’s weapon of choice

Louise Callaghan, The Times

July 25, 2021

From a conference stage at Tel Aviv University, Israel’s new prime minister called on all “good nations” to join forces against the growing scourge of cybersecurity threats.

Yet Naftali Bennett, a millionaire tech boss turned politician, made no mention of one of the most devastating global hacking scandals yet recorded, which came to light only a few days earlier.

According to widespread reports last week, spyware sold by NSO Group, an Israeli technology company, had been used by their clients, including the Saudi Arabian and Emirati governments, to target the private data of journalists, activists, senior politicians and military chiefs in 34 countries.

The French president Emmanuel Macron, Indian student leaders and a member of the House of Lords were among thousands of alleged victims of the software, known as Pegasus, which is used to hack into phones: breaking open encrypted information and turning them into listening devices.

The affair has created a monumental headache for Bennett’s administration, which is trying to rebrand the country’s international image after former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s years of divisive leadership.


At the same time it has highlighted Israel’s extraordinary success in turning itself into a world leader in cybersecurity — and exposed how the development of products such as Pegasus has updated the Israeli strategy of “Uzi diplomacy”: international weapons sales that bought the country cash and allies as it fought to survive in a region hostile to its very existence.

“Innovation is something you can’t command, force or direct,” said Bennett in his speech. But that is exactly what Israel has done.

French president Emmanuel Macron was among thousands of alleged victims of the software known as Pegasus

Since it was founded in 1948, the country has poured incredible amounts of money and human resources into creating one of the most technologically advanced armed forces on the earth.

Conscription into the Israel Defence Force (IDF), officials say, detects talent early on in Israeli teenagers and provides them with highly sought-after skills and discipline before ejecting them into the private sector. Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, the men who founded NSO — and whose first initials make up the company name — are all former members of Unit 8200, the elite Israeli cyber spy agency.

“The IDF has a lot of technological units, they train soldiers and those they train are later on funnelled to the market and become entrepreneurs and start-up owners,” said Professor Gabi Siboni, a colonel in the IDF reserve forces and a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. “There’s a lot of energy. The IDF is practically like a hothouse for technological development.”

The motivation, said Siboni, was existential. “Israel is surrounded by our enemies and we must invest in our security otherwise we die, simple as that,” he said.

Yet for successive Israeli leaders, the truth has been a little more complicated. During his 15-year rule, Netanyahu, who was ousted this summer, sold Israel as a world power in cyber-weapons and technology as he courted potential new allies. Some of those, including Saudi Arabia, had once been among Israel’s fiercest enemies; now, however, they were eager to buy what Israel was selling.

In previous decades other nations had flocked to buy the Uzi sub-machinegun, developed by an Israeli army officer after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Now the product was less tangible — though no less dangerous in the wrong hands.

“The NSO system, the Pegasus, just replaced the Uzi diplomacy. It’s the same policy,” said Eitay Mack, a human rights lawyer who has filed two petitions to cancel NSO’s export licences.

He added: “[But] because Pegasus is not something physical, it’s easy to deny and there’s no accountability.

“There was a shared interest between NSO and the government to work in these places. Of course NSO wanted to enlarge its profits, and the Israeli government wanted to advance its interests.”

Today, he claimed, there was “zero transparency” from the Defence Ministry about their deep relationships with private companies such as NSO.

Phone numbers belonging to Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum had been on the list allegedly used for by Pegasus

Benny Gantz, the Israeli defence minister, last week said that Israel was “studying” the information published about Pegasus.

In a statement the Defence Ministry said it would take “appropriate action” if NSO has violated its export licences.

NSO’s defenders say that Israel’s export laws go to extraordinary lengths to stop their products from being abused. The software requires an export licence as it is considered a weapon.

The company has denied the allegations. In a post on its website last week entitled “enough is enough!”, it thundered against what it called a “vicious and slanderous campaign”.

“Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or a Pegasus potential target is erroneous and false,” the statement read.

Their spyware, NSO has claimed, is used only to investigate terrorism and crime. But terrorism can be a very flexible term. When used by dictators or autocratic regimes, it can be applied to just about anyone who disagrees with their ideas.

As well as world leaders and activists, the list of more than 50,000 phone numbers allegedly used for targeting by Pegasus included an Indian woman who had reported a former chief justice for sexual harassment.

Last week the Israeli government formed a damage control team to limit the fallout from the revelations. Yet a source close to the Israeli defence ministry said that they did not believe NSO’s export licences would be cancelled. Rather, they half-joked, the publicity could lead to a boom in sales as autocrats saw the enormous capabilities of Israeli spy technology advertised across the world.

This is not the first time that NSO has been at the centre of a major scandal of international intrigue. Over the years, its name has cropped up from Mexico to the Gulf in connection with allegations of targeting civil society figures through spyware. In 2019 the company halted its deals with Saudi Arabia over allegations that NSO software played a part in tracking the journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his assassination in 2018.

Last week it emerged that phone numbers belonging to Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the kidnapped daughter of the leader of Dubai, and her associates had been on the list allegedly used for targeting by Pegasus.

“Like anything else in cybersecurity it’s an ongoing battle,” said May Brooks-Kempler, CEO of Helena-Sec, an Israeli cybersecurity company. “One side provides defensive mechanisms and finds vulnerabilities and fixes them, and the other side tries to find vulnerabilities that nobody knows about, and utilises and exploits them.”

All the bad guys loved an Uzi. Now Israeli cyberspies are the autocrat’s weapon of choice

From a conference stage at Tel Aviv University, Israel’s new prime minister called on all “good nations” to join forces against the growing scourge of cybersecurity threats. Yet Naftali Bennett, a millionaire tech boss turned politician, made no mention of one of the most devastating global hacking scandals yet recorded, which came to light only a few days earlier.

UN should seek release of Dubai princess and her sister, says Mary Robinson

Princess Latifa has called for police to reinvestigate the disappearance of her sister in 2000.

FORMER PRESIDENT OF Ireland Mary Robinson has said the UN Office of the High Commissioner should “seek the release” of Dubai princess Sheikha Latifa and her sister.

Robinson, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last month that she was “horribly tricked” over a photo taken of her with Princess Latifa, the daughter of the Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum– who has said she is being held hostage by her father.

In February 2018, Princess Latifa Al Maktoum reportedly tried to flee Dubai, but her friends said that commandos stormed a boat carrying her off the coast of India.

It is claimed she was then brought back to the Emirates by her father.

Amid increasing international concern for the woman’s welfare, in December 2018 Mary Robinson attended a family lunch on invitation from Dubai’s royal family, and was photographed with the princess.

Robinson has said she made a “mistake” and was “naive” in relation to the case.

Speaking to Euronews, Robinson said it is important now to focus on seeking the release of Latifa and her sister, princess Shamsa, who has been missing since 2000.

“I think it’s actually very important now to support the Office of High Commissioner, the High Commissioner who has asked for proof of life and to actually go further with the mandates of the office and seek the release not just of Latifa, but also of her sister. That’s where the focus has to be,” she said.

Mary Robinson with Latifa in 2018.

In February, princess Latifa urged Cambridgeshire Police to reinvestigate the disappearance of her older sister, princess Shamsa.

Latifa said Shamsa was also captured by her father.

Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge on August 19 2000 and has never been seen in public since. It is believed she was returned to the United Arab Emirates.

Cambridgeshire Police previously confirmed “aspects” of their 2001 investigation – which found insufficient evidence to take any action – will be revisited, although the force insisted the investigation is no longer “active”.

Last week, a UN spokesman said it is yet to see evidence from the United Arab Emirates that Dubai’s Sheikha Latifa was still alive, a fortnight after seeking proof.

The United Nations Human Rights Office had asked for evidence about the daughter of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum after the BBC broadcast a video shot by Latifa saying she was being held captive and feared for her life.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the organisation has spoken to the UAE’s diplomatic mission in Geneva.

“We’ve held discussions with representatives of the UAE government here in Geneva, but I don’t have any particular progress to report,” he said.

UN should seek release of Dubai princess and her sister, says Mary Robinson

Princess Latifa has called for police to reinvestigate the disappearance of her sister in 2000.

If a woman succeeds, she must be taken down

Alice Thomson
March 3, 2021, The Times

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum’s plaintive cries from her captivity are heart-rending. Here is a young woman who has been locked up by her father, the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. Rapunzel may be eating off gold plates in her villa jail but she can’t escape.

In her recent video she sounded desperate, and her family insinuate she is mad. The 35-year-old had tried to flee but was kidnapped by armed commandos. Her sister Shamsa “disappeared” in a similar snatch two decades earlier.

Of course, we tell ourselves, this could never happen in the West. Except that watching the documentary Framing Britney Spears, it didn’t feel dissimilar. Since 2007, following a very public breakdown, all Spears’s assets of $60 million, her career and medical information have been controlled by her father, even after the singer went to court last year in an attempt to end the arrangement. She refused to sing in her gilded cage so was first called manipulative, then insane.

The documentary showed a young woman who had been stripped of her freedom by western society, her father and the media. After what she endured in the public eye as a sexualised child star, it’s amazing she is still standing.

Male interviewers would joke with the polite, eager-to-please teenager about the “cheap slutty girl who put out” and proposition her on air. Meanwhile Justin Timberlake was lauded when he boasted about taking her virginity. To his credit, he has now said he feels guilty that he benefited “from a system that condones misogyny”, but few others have apologised for their part in this young mother’s descent into a psychiatric hospital.

It’s bizarre that women are still hounded, perhaps even more now than they were at the turn of the century, before smartphones. Carrie Symonds, whatever you think of her politics or her fiancé, is also being portrayed as a meddling witch. She is the latest in a long line of women in No 10 who have been vilified for living with a prime minister. I thought after Cherie Booth was forced to apologise for trying to juggle all the balls and dropping one that the situation might improve.

Now Symonds has added Marie Antoinette to her titles of Lady Macbeth and Anne Boleyn because she wants to repaper the PM’s Downing Street flat in the designer Lulu Lytle’s fern scrolling wallpaper. But it’s her fiancé who should be dunked if he is appealing for charity to pay for their renovations.

Symonds has had to cope with a now easily recognisable cycle of abuse. It started with the seemingly innocent celebration of geisha-like pictures of her in prairie dresses and highlighted tresses, before moving rapidly to the implication, drawing on usually disgruntled male sources, that she was manipulative and hysterical, the power behind the throne who couldn’t control her temper or her dog.

After that she was described as Princess Nut Nut. Now she is being cast as fighting other women, having called the sitting room bequeathed by Theresa May a “John Lewis furniture nightmare”, though I can’t see the former prime minister minding that.

You could say this young mother has exploited her own position by posting perfect photographs of herself on Instagram but I wonder whether this is just a way of trying to take back some control in an increasingly hostile, obsessively scrutinised world. Mrs May did the same with her leather trousers; if they were going to compare her pins to Nicola Sturgeon’s then she might as well get in first.

Being a prime minister’s partner doesn’t automatically make someone a target: Denis Thatcher and Philip May were always seen as benign, smiling figures. But women in the public eye just aren’t treated in the same way as men. Every woman I interview, from the council clerk Jackie Weaver to ministers and actresses, has had experience of abusive trolls and sexist keyboard warriors, rape and death threats. Men seem to want to watch them self-destruct. Some use humour to tackle the misogynist online bullies, others quietly retire.

I once met Monica Lewinsky, a dignified, intelligent woman, and felt horrified at how journalists and commentators had traduced her while lauding Bill and Hillary Clinton. It happens to female sports pundits too. Sonja McLaughlan, the BBC reporter, was driven to tears last weekend by vile abuse directed at her following her Six Nations rugby interviews, and was then sneered at by the bullies for having cracked.

These tales don’t crop up in interviews with men: they usually look blank if you ask them how many death threats they’ve received. Such abuse is a way of keeping women in the shadows and punishing them for speaking out or behaving too loudly and it has to stop. Women shouldn’t have to quit social media and become mute. As Lewinsky explained to me, “whenever this kind of vitriol and misogyny is directed towards one woman, it reverberates to all women”.

But a new generation is refusing to play: stars like Carey Mulligan and Taylor Swift are calling out the snide sexual remarks, despite being denigrated as spoilsports. In the past year, women who have become crucial to efforts to counter the coronavirus have also demanded respect. When I interviewed Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the developers of the Oxford vaccine, and Kate Bingham, who procured it, they took on their detractors.

No one dares denigrate them as witches; they’re wizards. Symonds should be allowed to get on with her new environmental job and the prime minister can take responsibility for his own wallpaper.

If a woman succeeds, she must be taken down

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum’s plaintive cries from her captivity are heart-rending. Here is a young woman who has been locked up by her father, the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. Rapunzel may be eating off gold plates in her villa jail but she can’t escape.

Queen has accepted racehorses from ruler of Dubai even after his wife Princess Haya fled to London

It’s royal gifts as usual amid the mystery of the sheikh’s missing daughters

The Queen has continued to accept gifts of racehorses from the ruler of Dubai, even after his wife fled to London in fear of her life.

Horses given by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum accounted for a sixth of those that carried the Queen’s silks during the flat season last year.

Some of the gifts were accepted after the sheikh’s youngest wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, 46, fled to London with their two young children in March 2019. Two months later the princess, a former Olympic equestrian, was invited to join the Queen for tea at Windsor.

Mohammed gave Lightness to the Queen’s stables


The revelation of the continuing gifts comes after the Queen was urged to use her influence over the sheikh to secure the release of two daughters he had abducted. Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, spoke this weekend of her regret at failing to use her prestige as a former United Nations human rights envoy to intervene on behalf of Princess Latifa, 35.

Robinson had lunch with Latifa in 2018 and later described her as a troubled young woman.

Through a shared love of horses Mohammed has developed a friendship with the Queen that transcends normal royal protocol. He is regularly invited to join her at Royal Ascot.

Mohammed, 71, prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, has invested a fortune to make Godolphin in Newmarket, Suffolk, one of the premier racing stables.

John Warren, the Queen’s racing manager, declined to comment yesterday about the gifts from Godolphin since 2019 or on rumours that further horses had been accepted. A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said that it “would not comment on private matters”.

The Queen does not buy horses. All the 55 horses that carried her silks during the last flat season were from the royal stud, except the nine given by Godolphin. The age of some of the Godolphin horses meant that they must have been given after the princess fled to London. Mohammed is reported to have given the Queen four yearlings each year since 2009.

Six of the sheikh’s gifts won a race last year: Lightness, Just Fine, Inveigle, Wakening, Chosen Star and Desert Flyer. They collected £34,440 in prize money but cost the Queen about £270,000 in training fees. The previous year five other horses from Godolphin carried the Queen’s silks in flat races.

The Queen’s association with the sheikh is expected to come under the spotlight again this week as a new audio recording is released from Latifa, who the High Court found had been abducted by her father.

In the recording she recalls one of the sheikh’s senior aides saying that her father would take no notice of pleas to release her.

She says: “He is saying, ‘Nobody can make your father let you be free, nobody. Nobody is stronger than him.’ Yeah, it is all like brainwashing, they are trying to discourage me.”

Latifa was seized in 2018 by armed men while escaping Dubai on a yacht with Tiina Jauhiainen, a friend who had been her martial arts instructor. She has also appealed for her freedom in videos from her “villa jail”.

Concern about the princess’s plight has been spreading at the UN. Her supporters at first requested help from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, overseen by the UN Human Rights Council, which has put her on its list of cases. Her ordeal has been referred to three more bodies: the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the special rapporteur on violence against women; and the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women. UN officials attended an online conference where the new audio was played, alongside video testimony from the princess. “You could see they are taking it very seriously,” her lawyer, David Haigh, said. “You cannot fail to be affected by these videos.”

Jauhiainen has published an open letter to the Queen appealing for her to use “whatever influence” she has with the sheikh to secure the release of Latifa and her sister Shamsa, 39, who was abducted in Cambridge in 2000. She wrote: “Given you so obviously value justice, freedom and family and that you command universal respect, I truly believe your intervention could help bring the ordeal of these two women to an end.”

Mohammed’s British properties include the 3,300-acre Dalham Hall estate in Newmarket, the £75 million Longcross estate near Cobham, Surrey, and a 63,000-acre Highland estate.

Queen has accepted racehorses from ruler of Dubai even after his wife Princess Haya fled to London

The Queen has continued to accept gifts of racehorses from the ruler of Dubai, even after his wife fled to London in fear of her life. Horses given by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum accounted for a sixth of those that carried the Queen’s silks during the flat season last year.

Justine McCarthy: Mary Robinson must lead on search for missing Princess Latifa

The former president can use her global influence to pressurise Dubai

For those of us who celebrated Mary Robinson’s election as Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 the vapour trails of euphoria lingered long after she had left Aras an Uachtarain seven years later. She was a feminist who did not just talk the talk; she had walked the walk to Leinster House and the Four Courts as a senator and a senior counsel, chipping away at the patriarchal edifice to carve out improvements in women’s lives. Her election as the head of this state came at the end of a decade of horrors for Irish females, most notably the medieval evisceration of Joanne Hayes at the Kerry Babies tribunal; the tragic death of Ann Lovett, 15, with her newborn baby at the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin in Granard; the court-approved dismissal of Eileen Flynn from her teaching job in Wexford for cohabiting with a married man; and two viciously fought referendums on abortion and divorce when women’s feelings were hurled around like rocks by warring cavemen.

In a delicious irony it was a sexist attack on Robinson by the former EU commissioner Pádraig Flynn the weekend before the presidential election, when he accused her of portraying “a newfound interest” in her family during the campaign, that ensured her victory. As president she often aligned the office with vulnerable women, particularly by visiting refuges for survivors of domestic abuse. Her ultimate act of feminist symbolism was when she visited the Pope on International Women’s Day, eschewing the Vatican’s requirement that women dress from head to toe in black and, instead, sporting a sprig of mimosa, Italy’s women’s-lib emblem, on a vivid green dress. Her visit as president to famine-blighted Somalia, where she made a point of privately meeting women community leaders, catapulted her into the role of UN high commissioner for human rights.

Watching Robinson’s apologia on last week’s BBC Panorama programme about the kidnapping, captivity and disappearance of Princess Latifa of Dubai was like watching one of your heroes fall from grace. When someone damages the very cause that had enticed you to invest your respect in them, the shattering of that regard is gut-wrenching.

Robinson has, at long last, conceded she was used as a patsy by Dubai’s billionaire ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum in an international propaganda exercise to conceal his crimes. He had his daughter abducted by armed commandoes on board a yacht off the coast of India after she tried to escape his tyrannical clutches in 2018. “My father is the most evil person I have ever met in my life,” she said in a video she secretly recorded. Latifa was back under lock and key in Dubai when Robinson, while attending a conference in Paris, received an invitation to lunch in the glittering Arab emirate from Latifa’s step-mother, Princess Haya. One of the sheikh’s six wives and mothers of his 25 children, Haya had become friendly with Robinson before her marriage, during a sojourn in Ireland working with horses in the 1990s. She paid for Robinson’s flight to Dubai.

Latifa has said Haya told her that, if she passed the test of sitting docilely at lunch, she might enjoy greater freedom. The younger woman knew nothing about this “Mary” who came to lunch and said that, had she known she was a former human rights commissioner, she would have confided in Robinson. Instead, the conversation at lunch was about sport, veganism and the environment. Robinson has said Haya told her Latifa was suffering from bipolar disorder and that she did not discuss this with the younger woman, having no expertise in the condition.

On Christmas Eve Dubai issued photographs and film footage of the occasion to rebut international concerns that Latifa was being held prisoner. When the BBC challenged her about her role in December 2018 Robinson said Latifa was “clearly troubled” but she was “in the loving care” of her family.

Last week the Irish woman admitted she had been duped. “I was misled, initially by my good friend princess Haya, because she was misled.” The unanswered question is why Robinson has waited until now to admit her mistake. Four months after the images of the lunch were released Haya herself fled Dubai with her two children and petitioned for a divorce in London. She told the court she was “terrified” of her husband, that he had intimidated her with guns, and planned to marry off their 12-year-old daughter.

Haya said she began to see through his lies about Latifa’s mental health when she visited the young woman in a locked and guarded house on December 6, 2018. That was nine days before Robinson came to lunch. Yet there is no indication that the human-rights champion protested at the release of the film and photos a further 10 days later.

The sheikh did not testify in court. Instead, he brazenly hosted an international conference on women’s rights, which was addressed by Ivanka Trump, a daughter of America’s then president. While it is almost understandable that someone whose father is a self-confessed “pussy” grabber would give her imprimatur to a misogynistic regime, one expected better from Robinson. She would know that Dubai’s laws discriminate against women in regulating marriage, child custody and inheritance. Naivety cannot explain her behaviour, because she is far from naive.

On March 5, 2020, the London court ruled that Latifa was held for three years on her father’s instructions after her first attempt to escape in 2005, and that he had ordered her abduction and forced return to Dubai in 2018. The judgment also stated that Sheikh Mohammed had arranged the kidnapping of her older sister, Shamsa, from Cambridge in 2000. She has not been seen in public since.

I believe Robinson remains sincere in her beliefs about women’s rights and suspect she feels devastated at being exploited, to the endangerment of Latifa, who has vanished since that lunch. Haya and Robinson are, to different extents, victims of the tyrant sheikh too. The Irishwoman, however, has the global influence as well as the cultural and jurisdictional independence to make amends.

Robinson’s biography on the website of the Elders, an international elite formed by Nelson Mandela which she chairs, describes her as “a forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace building and human dignity”. Sadly, she needs to prove it, all over again. She can do that by leading the charge to find Latifa and her sister Shamsa, and by forcing the rest of the world to stop turning a blind eye to wealthy tyrants.

Meanwhile the rest of us might think twice about holidaying in Dubai, thus contributing to the tourism revenue that helps immunise a wicked father and leader against any threat to his authoritarian hold on his country.

Justine McCarthy: Mary Robinson must lead on search for missing Princess Latifa

For those of us who celebrated Mary Robinson’s election as Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 the vapour trails of euphoria lingered long after she had left Aras an Uachtarain seven years later.

Help to free my sister, Dubai princess begs British police

The missing Dubai princess has appealed to British police to reinvestigate the fate of an older sister who disappeared in Cambridge two decades ago, according to a smuggled letter.

Princess Latifa, 35, who says that she is being held captive by her family, said that police could help to free Princess Shamsa, 39.

The older sister ran away in 2000 from a Surrey estate owned by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. She was seized two months later. Cambridgeshire police investigated the case at the time but were blocked from pursuing it to the United Arab Emirates.

“All I ask of you is to please give attention on her case because it could get her her freedom,” Latifa, 35, wrote in the letter, which has been shared with the BBC. “Your help and attention on her case could free her. She has strong links to England. She really loves England, all of her fondest memories are of her time there.”

Details of what happened to Shamsa, who was staying at the Longcross estate, near Chobham, when she fled, were only fully revealed when Latifa, who is her full sister by one of Sheikh Mohammed’s six wives, ran away herself in 2018.

In a video recorded and sent to the campaign group Detained in Dubai, to be released only if she were recaptured, she described how Shamsa had been held in prison and then drugged to keep her docile after her escape attempt.

Latifa said she herself had tried to escape before. This time, she almost made it to India on a yacht owned by a Frenchman, Hervé Jaubert, along with a Finnish friend, Tiina Jauhiainen, but they were intercepted by the Indian and Emirati navies.

Last week BBC Panorama updated the story by releasing more videos, this time secretly recorded in 2019 by Latifa on a phone smuggled into the villa in Dubai where she said she was being held captive.

It is not clear how the letter being revealed now was released. The BBC said it was written in 2019, though dated February 2018, before her escape, to disguise the details of its origins. It has been passed to the police.

The letter repeated Latifa’s earlier claims about her sister’s treatment after she was flown back to Dubai from England in 2000. “She was kept incommunicado with no release date, trial or charge,” it said. “She was tortured by getting her feet caned.”

Cambridgeshire police confirmed that they had received the letter and said it would be added to a continuing review of the case. “This is a very complex and serious matter and as such there are details of the case that it would be inappropriate to discuss publicly,” the force said in a statement.

The Foreign Office subsequently confirmed that Dubai, which has close relations with Britain, had approached it about Shamsa’s case when her disappearance was being investigated.

A senior police officer who was blocked from investigating the kidnapping of Shamsa at the time of her abduction claimed last year that the truth about the case was being suppressed to save official “embarrassment”. David Beck, the detective chief inspector who was in charge of the original investigation, was denied permission by the Crown Prosecution Service to travel to Dubai to interview witnesses, and the investigation was dropped.

He said he had been prevented from reviewing the police files in the case despite being required to give evidence in the High Court.

“They said in the statements in court they quoted ‘significant sensitivities’ and to me ‘significant sensitivities’ means someone is going to get embarrassed,” Beck said. “Well, personal embarrassment is not a reason for withholding the truth about the evidence.”

Last week Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said that the video footage was “deeply troubling” and that Britain would “watch very closely developments on that front”.

As part of custody hearings in London in 2019 connected to Sheikh Mohammed’s divorce from another wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, he issued a statement that Shamsa was “vulnerable” and that he had ordered a “rescue mission” for her in 2000. However, the judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, ruled that the sheikh had ordered the abduction of both daughters.

It is not that no one knew about the kidnapping of Princess Shamsa from the streets of Cambridge in August 2000. She managed to get word out through a lawyer, and police began an investigation (Richard Spencer writes).

The princess had fled the estate of her father, Sheikh Mohammed, near Chobham, Surrey, in a black Range Rover before heading to Cambridge. Once there she checked into the University Arms Hotel but on August 19 her break for freedom came to an abrupt end. Shamsa was captured by a team of her father’s operatives who had been trailing her since her escape. It was not long before she was back in Dubai and, after police were blocked from travelling there, the investigation stalled.

So for almost two decades everyone forgot about the free-spirited 18-year-old. One person who did not was her younger sister Latifa. She was 14 at the time and the punishment meted out to Shamsa, rather than cowing her, made her even more determined to follow suit. She made her own first escape attempt two years later, heading over the border from Dubai to neighbouring Oman before being captured and returned home.

Later on, she saw her sister emerge from incarceration a shell of the girl with whom she had grown up. “She had to be led around by her hand,” Latifa said in one of the statements leaked to the BBC. “She couldn’t open her eyes. She was given a bunch of pills to control her. Those pills made her like a zombie.”

Other than that, Shamsa is the invisible princess. Her brothers, sisters and cousins are celebrities in Dubai, with Instagram accounts showing glamorous lives with all the luxuries that come with having a Gulf emir as your father.

Her older brother, Sheikh Hamdan, the crown prince, keeps a white tiger as a pet. A cousin, also called Latifa, shares the family passion for horses and competed as an equestrian at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Sheikh Mohammed says both princesses are being cared for in the bosom of his family. He says they have declined requests to speak to a lawyer. The UN has asked for proof of life.

The sheikh is absolute ruler of his emirate and there is little any outside power, including Cambridgeshire police, can do to stop him treating his daughters as he wishes.

In 2000, though, Dubai was much less well known than it is today, something of a magnet for British tourists, football stars, influencers and businessmen. The battle for Shamsa and Latifa, and for the image of the Maktoum family, has some way to go yet.

Help to free my sister, Dubai princess begs British police

The missing Dubai princess has appealed to British police to reinvestigate the fate of an older sister who disappeared in Cambridge two decades ago, according to a smuggled letter. Princess Latifa, 35, who says that she is being held captive by her family, said that police could help to free Princess Shamsa, 39.

Letters: Robinson’s lunch with Princess Latifa is too much to swallow

Justine McCarthy is right to take to task former president Mary Robinson for her lunch with Princess Latifa, daughter and prisoner of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, billionaire ruler of Dubai (“Why I feel let down by Mary Robinson”, Comment, last week).

In March 2018, Princess Latifa recorded a heart-rending video detailing her life of subjugation, including her plan to mount an escape. She said that her video would be published only if her escape failed. It did fail, as her father had her recaptured, and so friends released the video, which is still available on YouTube.

In December 2018, Robinson visited Dubai for her infamous lunch with Princess Haya, one of the sheikh’s six wives, and Princess Latifa, who had been a prisoner since her capture.

It seems inconceivable that Robinson, in preparing for her visit, did not view the video or did not have her attention drawn to it. She should have known what she was doing, and that Princess Latifa was a captive.
Tony Allwright
Carrickmines, Dublin 18

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
I was one of the women who was elated at Robinson’s election as president in 1990 and her subsequent championing of human rights. However, with her brilliant mind and vast life experience, she should have known better than to go to that lunch.

McCarthy has called her out, but did so in a measured and heartfelt way, suggesting how the former Irish president could undo some of the damage. We await her next move. MW Foley, by email

Elephant in the room

For all the plaudits heaped on Robinson, “cop on” seems to be in short supply. Anyone who studies Dubai and takes one look at its leader would know enough to make them run, and keep running.
Marie Flynn, Dublin

Decoy ducked
While praising Robinson for her election as Ireland’s first female president, for which I worked hard, you omitted the fact that she resigned from the position with six weeks left of her term. I felt very let down at the time.

Robinson later apologised and said she was taken in by Kofi Annan, who had put pressure on her to take up the position as the UN’s high commissioner for human rights. The episode meant I wasn’t surprised by her actions later with Princess Haya. Unfortunately, she seems a gullible person. Vincent Tully, Carlow


Weakness for flattery Once again, Robinson demonstrates a lack of judgment. She has a record of being ineffectual and subject to flattery. Walking out of the presidency for greater things at the UN was an act of stupidity and abandonment. Jumping at this Dubai opportunity without research beforehand confirms these deficiencies. John Ryan
Pittsburgh, USA


Shocking disappointment
An excellent article: I too feel disappointment at her response to the fate of Princess Latifa; incredulity at the level of her naivety. Sighle Bhreathnach Lynch Dalkey


Chance of redemption

The only way Robinson can redeem herself now is to be seen to actively investigate the current wellbeing of this young woman. Tony Morgan, Dublin 6

Blind eye to human rights
Full marks to McCarthy for shining a light on Richard O’Halloran’s detention in China (Comment, February 14). This is a grave abuse of the human rights of an Irish citizen but our craven government has adopted the three monkeys’ approach. Shame on all concerned. Daniel Smith
Blackrock, Co Dublin

Letters: Robinson’s lunch with Princess Latifa is too much to swallow

Justine McCarthy is right to take to task former president Mary Robinson for her lunch with Princess Latifa, daughter and prisoner of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, billionaire ruler of Dubai (“Why I feel let down by Mary Robinson”, Comment, last week).

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum seized in exchange for arms dealer

The daughter of the ruler of Dubai was seized by Indian commandos as part of a deal to extradite a British arms dealer, a United Nations panel has ruled.

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum was captured on a yacht off the coast of Goa as she attempted to escape her father in March 2018, then drugged and returned to Dubai.

Weeks later Christian Michel, 59, was extradited from Dubai to Delhi, where he is accused of paying bribes to help AgustaWestland, the helicopter manufacturer that has a base in Yeovil, Somerset, win a contract worth more than $500 million.

The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has found that Michel was extradited in a “de facto swap”

The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has found that Michel was extradited in a “de facto swap”.

The experts ruled that the deprivation of Michel’s liberty “lacks a legal basis” and that “the violations of the right to a fair trial and due process are of such gravity as to give Mr Michel’s deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character”.

They said that Michel should be released and paid reparations by both India and the United Arab Emirates, according to a report seen by the news agency AFP.

The working group is investigating Latifa’s case and has asked for “proof of life” after the release of videos last week in which she claimed to be held hostage by her father in a “villa jail”.

The princess said that the US-flagged yacht used for her thwarted escape was boarded by the Indian army accompanied by Emirati commandos who used smoke grenades to force her out of hiding.

Latifa, 35, described “kicking and fighting” the soldiers before she was drugged and taken on a private jet back to Dubai.

Her father, Sheikh Mohammed, 71, is prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates. He has said that he believes that Latifa has been “manipulated” and he described her return to Dubai as a “rescue mission”.

Lawyers for Michel and his family have called on Britain to intervene to secure his release. Toby Cadman, a British barrister, said: “The procedure followed in Christian’s case can only be described as a flagrant denial of justice and a circumvention of the rule of law.”

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum seized in exchange for arms dealer

The daughter of the ruler of Dubai was seized by Indian commandos as part of a deal to extradite a British arms dealer, a United Nations panel has ruled. Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum was captured on a yacht off the coast of Goa as she attempted to escape her father in March 2018, then drugged and returned to Dubai.

Emirati princess calls for new probe to find sister who vanished 21 years ago

Emirati princess Latifa Al Maktoum has urged police in the UK to reinvestigate the disappearance of her older sister, Princess Shamsa.

Princess Latifa, who says she has been held captive in a “villa jail” in Dubai by her father Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum since an attempt to flee in 2018, said Shamsa was also captured by her father.

Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge on August 19, 2000 and has never been seen in public since. It is believed she was returned to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Cambridgeshire Police previously confirmed “aspects” of their 2001 investigation – which found insufficient evidence to take any action – will be revisited, although the force insisted the investigation is no longer “active”.

In a letter from Latifa to the force, obtained by the BBC, she wrote: “All I ask of you is to please give attention on her case because it could get her her freedom… your help and attention on her case could free her.

“She has strong links to England… she really loves England, all of her fondest memories are of her time there.”

A police spokesman said: “The review into the disappearance of Princess Shamsa continues. This is a very complex and serious matter and as such there are details of the case that it would be inappropriate to discuss publicly.

“We can confirm officers have recently received a letter, dated February 2018, in relation to this case which will be looked at as part of the ongoing review.

“In addition, we are also looking at the contents of the recent BBC Panorama documentary to identify whether it includes anything of significance to our case.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the issue is a matter for the police: “[He] said last week Princess Latifa’s claims of being held against her will are obviously concerning.

“But with regards to the abduction of Princess Shamsa, that [investigation] was conducted by Cambridge Constabulary.”

Footage filmed by Latifa of her life in the “villa jail”, broadcast this month, was described by UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab as “very distressing”, and triggered concern around the globe.

A family statement released through the UAE embassy in London played down allegations of mistreatment, and said she is being cared for at home.

It said: “She continues to improve and we are hopeful she will return to public life.”

Emirati princess calls for new probe to find sister who vanished 21 years ago

Emirati princess Latifa Al Maktoum has urged police in the UK to reinvestigate the disappearance of her older sister, Princess Shamsa. Princess Latifa, who says she has been held captive in a “villa jail” in Dubai by her father Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum since an attempt to flee in 2018, said Shamsa was also captured by her father.

UAE: Princess Latifa asks UK police to reopen case into sister Shamsa’s kidnapping

In a handwritten letter given to British authorities on Wednesday, Latifa says a new investigation could help her secure her sister’s release

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Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum attends the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 16 February 2020. (REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo)

Dubai’s Princess Latifa has urged British police to reopen its case into the kidnapping of her sister Shamsa by her father, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, according to a letter shared with the BBC.

In a handwritten letter given to Cambridgeshire police on Wednesday, Latifa, who last week appeared in footage describing herself as a “hostage” of her father, said a new investigation could help free her sister.

Princess Shamsa, now 39, has not been seen in public for two decades since allegedly being abducted in the UK as a teenager by men working for Sheikh Mohammed.

Last year, a British judge ruled that the sheikh, who is prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, was keeping both his daughters captive and had kidnapped the two on separate occasions.

Shamsa, it was claimed and believed by the judge, fled her family in the UK in 2000, only to be recaptured by Emirati agents in Cambridge, sedated and then rendered by helicopter from the family’s Newmarket home.

Shamsa is believed held captive in Dubai. Attempts by Cambridgeshire police to travel to the UAE and follow up investigations into her disappearance were blocked by prosecutors.

The court heard that the UK Foreign Office received freedom of information requests about this matter, which were refused on the grounds that such information could harm relations with friendly foreign countries.

‘Tranquilised all the time’

Though it only reached British police this week, Latifa wrote her letter in 2019, according to the BBC, while she was being kept in a beachside villa guarded by roughly 30 police officers.

“All I ask of you is to please give attention on her case because it could get her her freedom,” it reads. “Your help and attention on her case could free her.

“She really loves England,” Latifa wrote, “all of her fondest memories are of her time there.”

Latifa dated her letter February 2018 – before her most recent attempt to escape – so her captors could not find out she had a means of communicating with the outside world, according to the BBC. 

In it, she describes what happened to her sister Shamsa when she was brought back to Dubai.

“She was kept incommunicado with no release date, trial or charge. She was tortured by getting her feet caned…”

Someone in Dubai in regular contact with Shamsa told the BBC, “you didn’t need to be a doctor to know that [she] was tranquilised all the time.”

Queen Noor of Jordan, who serves on the board of commissioners for the International Commission on Missing Persons, asked “Where is her sister Shamsa??” on Twitter on Sunday, in a tweet accompanying a BBC article which claimed her sister Latifa was being held captive.

Cambridgeshire Police reviewed its original 2001 investigation into Shamsa’s kidnapping in 2018, according to the BBC, then opened another review in 2020.

Latifa’s letter “will be looked at as part of the ongoing review”, it told the BBC

“This is a very complex and serious matter,” the police statement continued, “and as such there are details of the case that it would be inappropriate to discuss publicly”.

The government of Dubai did not respond to BBC requests for comment.

‘No dispute to the evidence’

The UK judge in the 2020 court case also ruled that Dubai’s emir waged a harassment campaign against his former wife, Princess Haya bint Hussein, the step-daughter of Queen Noor and half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Haya claimed her relationship with Sheikh Mohammed broke down completely in 2019, soon after she started visiting her step-daughter Latifa and began asking questions about Shamsa.

Last Friday, Latifa’s family said she was being “cared for at home” and said the footage broadcast by the BBC and media reporting on the princess’ plight was “not reflective of the actual position”.

Since the release of the footage, rights groups have been calling on the international community to pressure the UAE into releasing both royals. 

“Human rights organisations and UN bodies have repeatedly called on the UAE to provide proof of life of these two adult women and evidence that they are free to travel and leave their confinement,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), told Middle East Eye.

“There is no dispute to the evidence that Emir Mohammed bin Rashid kidnapped his adult daughters and is holding them in forced captivity. If the UAE was a country where the ‘rule of law’ meant anything at all, the police would move immediately to arrest the emir and free his daughters from their cruel imprisonment.

“The UAE spends millions on PR spewing nonsensical claims of ‘women’s empowerment’ while it allows one of its most prominent leaders to get away with the most retrograde domestic violence, kidnapping, and cruelty against women in his own family.”

Sheikh Mohammed is known to be friendly with Queen Elizabeth II.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that he was “concerned” about the plight of Latifa after the new videos of her emerged, though Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK had no plans to raise Latifa’s case directly with the Emiratis.

The Sunday Express reported on Sunday that Latifa’s lawyers will formally request that Raab seize her father’s assets under powers granted to the government by new UK human rights legislation.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also said that the Biden administration is closely monitoring developments.

UAE: Princess Latifa asks UK police to reopen case into sister Shamsa’s kidnapping

Dubai’s Princess Latifa has urged British police to reopen its case into the kidnapping of her sister Shamsa by her father, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, according to a letter shared with the BBC.