ABU DHABI // A Qatari security officer has detailed his involvement in a plot to slander the leadership of the UAE and Saudi Arabia and spread dissent in the countries using fake social media accounts controlled by officials in Doha.
In an interview with Abu Dhabi TV broadcast on Thursday night, Hamad Al Hammadi, 33, said he was tasked in 2013 with purchasing five Sim cards in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and Dh5,000 worth of roaming services for each number.
The UAE Sim cards were then used by Qatari state security to create five social media accounts, disguised as belonging to Emiratis, to spread defamatory images and sow dissent among the UAE population, according to UAE security officials.
Emirati authorities arrested Al Hammadi on a later visit and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Federal Supreme Court for attempting to ruin the reputation of the state. On Saturday, the President, Sheikh Khalifa, pardoned Al Hammadi.
The plot took place in September 2013, six months before the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha over Qatar's alleged support for Islamist groups. The rift was resolved after eight months but tensions simmered beneath the surface until earlier this month when the UAE and Saudi Arabia moved to cut off Qatar diplomatically and through air, sea and land routes.
"This is but one of the many cases through which Qatar tried to attack the UAE, the KSA and Bahrain, as well as other Arab countries. It is but the tip of the iceberg that conceals several conspiracies," Al Hammadi said.
He insisted that he did not know what the Sim cards were used for.
The interview was broadcast as the crisis between Qatar and other Arab states showed little sign of abating.
On Thursday, expatriates working in Qatar said their employers had cancelled holidays and barred them from leaving the country as authorities made plans to cope with the fallout.
A Qatari government official said some leave had been cancelled in "essential government sectors" to keep staff on hand as authorities made plans to cope with the crisis, but did not mention travel restrictions for foreigners.
Expatriate executives and engineers at Qatar Petroleum said the orders started a day after Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced the measures against Qatar over its support of extremist groups.
"I was told not to travel. My exit permit and holiday was cancelled," said a British expatriate at one of the state-owned group's subsidiaries.
A spokesman for Qatar Petroleum said that due to the sanctions on Qatar "a few selected critical employees may have been asked to postpone their leave for operational reasons at their discretion."
Doctors from the government-run Hamad hospital made similar reports and others said the orders had affected hundreds of people.
Meanwhile, Turkey sent its first ship carrying food aid to Qatar and dispatched a small contingent of soldiers and armoured vehicles there on Thursday
Earlier, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
"Agreement was reached on increasing efforts towards ending tension in the region related to Qatar," sources from Mr Erdogan's office said. The president and King Salman agreed to hold face-to-face talks at the G20 meeting in Hamburg next month.
Turkey has backed Qatar in the dispute but is also wary of upsetting its other allies, including Saudi Arabia. Turkey fast-tracked legislation on June 7 to allow more troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar that houses Turkish soldiers under an agreement signed in 2014.
Five armoured vehicles and 23 military personnel arrived in Doha on Thursday as part of the new deployment plans, Turkey's armed forces said, adding that the move was in the framework of legal measures regarding military training and cooperation between the two countries.
Some 88 Turkish soldiers were already in Qatar, according to the Hurriyet newspaper.
After the deployment, a joint exercise by Turkish and Qatari forces was expected following Eid Al Fitr holiday, Hurriyet said. The number of Turkish soldiers sent to the Gulf state could reach 1,000, it said, adding that an air force contingent was also envisaged.
The first Turkish ship, carrying about 4,000 tonnes of dry food supplies, fruit and vegetables set off from a port in western Turkey's Izmir province at dawn on Thursday, state-run Anadolu news agency said. It cited the head of the logistics company delivering the supplies as saying it was expected to arrive in Doha in around 10 days.
Although Turkey has sent 105 cargo planes of supplies, economy minister Nihat Zeybekci said on Wednesday that it was not sustainable to maintain aid supplies through an air lift.
firstname.lastname@example.org with Reuters