US Intelligence Claims Russian Hackers to Blame for Gulf Crisis

Amid diplomatic turmoil in the Middle East, President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that his recent visit influenced several regional neighbors to isolate Qatar, home to an important United States military base, over terrorism. But his strong message of support to Saudi leaders, in particular, also may have encouraged Riyadh to act on a long-standing feud with Qatar.

"On this scale, it's unprecedented", said Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi historian of Gulf Affairs and Women's Studies at Qatar University.

The dispute led to suspended flights, and regional ports closed to Qatari ships as the nation's anxious residents started stockpiling food.

The Pentagon, whose air operations for the Middle East are headquartered at an air base in Qatar, where at least 10,000 USA service members are stationed, opted for balance and calming words.

The US was not informed of the decision until just before it was announced, the State Department has said.

I think Donald Trump gave away the game with his two tweets where he said he was part of the planning at this Saudi conference. "Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!"

He later tweeted: "Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!"

"The United States appreciates Qatar's role as a coalition partner in the fight against ISIL".

A CNN report then cited Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani as saying Federal Bureau of Investigation experts had concluded that Russian hackers had a hand in the furor.

The crisis has roots as far back as 1995, when the father of the current emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Al Thani deposed his own pro-Saudi father and the country began shipping natural gas from the world's largest reservoir, a resource it shares with Iran.

A State Department official told AP earlier in the day that despite the presence of 8,000 USA troops in Qatar, Washington won't try to mediate the dispute because it is better for countries in the region to resolve the conflict among themselves. Moscow had not responded to the reports on Tuesday night.

Mediation efforts intensified on Tuesday, with Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah travelling to Saudi Arabia for talks to defuse the crisis.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday dismissed the report as "yet another lie". Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the ban took effect Tuesday, but there is no plan yet to repatriate the more than 200,000 Filipino workers in Qatar.


Qatar has said it is open to talks, but Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Qatar must "change their policies" and stop supporting "extremist groups".

Malaysia had welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Salman earlier in February, and signed a defence cooperation agreement with Qatar the following month.

Although Trump's tweets suggested the rupture was an outgrowth of his meetings in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, State department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the USA was only informed of the Saudi-led actions against Qatar immediately beforehand.

"The president was responding to a regional crisis that began on Monday when Qatar's Persian Gulf neighbors severed economic and political ties with their neighbor in a move created to punish the tiny nation".

Soccer's world governing body Federation Internationale de Football Association has said it remains in regular contact with Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.

Qatar's neighbors have long accused the country of tolerating or even encouraging support for extremist groups, including al-Qaida's branch in Syria, formerly called the Nusra Front.

The Gulf countries ordered their citizens out of Qatar and gave Qataris overseas 14 days to return home.

Another voice of support for Qatar came from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who criticised the sanctions and vowed to maintain and develop ties with Doha.

The nations also cut air and sea traffic with Qatar.

The emir of Kuwait - one of the Gulf countries not involved in the dispute - travelled to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in an attempt to mediate.

The air route between Doha and Dubai is popular among business travelers, and both are major transit hubs for travelers between Asia and Europe. It has increasingly been sending flights over Iran and Turkey to avoid Saudi and Egyptian airspace.

Qatar and the other Arab states fell out over Doha's alleged support for Islamist militants and Shi'ite Iran.

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