A London-based activist who admitted ties to a Qatar-linked fake public relations agency has been identified as the key figure in almost 50 bogus news websites.
With apparently plausible titles, such as Fox News 24, Sunday Herald and Parliament Report, the websites publish reports on breaking news, international politics and regional issues.
However a British blogger has established the entire suite of websites can be traced to a serviced office address in London’s Covent Garden and linked to a prominent Palestinian activist, Sameh Akram Habeeb. The websites also shared a common internet protocol (IP).
Mr Habeeb also runs an outfit called Palestine Telegraph, which last year was in the spotlight after it issued a press release on behalf of the non-existent PR firm, London Centre for Public Affairs (LCPA). The LCPA was at that time engaged in a smear campaign against at Qatari businessman Khalid al-Hail, who coordinated a meeting of opposition leaders and Western politicians in the British capital.
Published on journalist Brian Whitaker’s al-Bab blog, the expose details Mr Habeeb’s apparent links to ‘Fox News 24’ and the other worldwide set of partner websites through an outfit named News Wire Now.
It lists the bogus titles, all of which have been registered by someone using the name Sam A as outlets for press releases that its clients are pushing.
Also registered at the Covent Garden address is the International Centre for Relations and Diplomacy Limited (ICRD), which proclaims itself to be a think tank. A press release from the ICRD announcing its foundation is published on the Sunday Herald website, quoting its founder, Sam Habeeb.
Al Bab identifies ten public relations releases on the websites, four of which related to Palestinian political campaigns and three to Qatar. Some of the reports relate to the human rights impact allegedly resulting from the Arab Quartet boycott of Qatar for support of terrorism and promotion of extremism.
There is no trace of ICRD, which was allegedly established almost two years ago, as a real-world organisation. According to its PR releases, the “independent, non-profit and non-partisan think-tank” has offices in both London and Brussels. "The centre seeks to promote progressive strategic dialogues that encourage interaction between political entities and citizen-based agendas,” it claims. "The centre works with different world parliaments with a prime focus on the European Parliament and local western European parliaments in addition to United Nations agencies.
“Our projects aim to promote conflict resolution through research, dialogue, integration with decision makers, publishing and media outreach."
As The National reported earlier this month, Qatar-friendly fake news sites have resorted to fabricating UN statements that make criticisms of the states that have raised objections to Doha.
Lobbying and public relations industry bodies last year warned against the activities such as the LCPA, which shares another link with Habeeb. Its made-up address, a construction site near Marble Arch, was also listed as the bogus address of an outfit co-owned by Mr Habeeb, London & Mayfair Estate Agents.
As it turns out according to Al Bab the London & Mayfair agency also used the Covent Garden serviced office address as its registered point of contact.