Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, the widow of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is suing the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group over the alleged use of the firm’s technology in the lead-up to her husband’s assassination, Reuters reported Friday.
According to the lawsuit filed Thursday in the Northern District of Virginia, NSO software infiltrated Elatr’s phone, allowing her messages to be read in the months prior to her husband’s murder in Istanbul in 2018.
NSO did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the lawsuit. The company has previously denied that its Pegasus software was involved in the killing of Khashoggi.
According to a Washington Post report in 2021, the spyware was placed on Elatr’s phone while she was being interrogated by security agents at 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.
Khashoggi and Elatr, who is Egyptian, 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, apparently his third wife in Saudi Arabia.
NSO Group has faced a torrent of international criticism over allegations it helps governments spy on dissidents and human 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 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.
The company has also been hurt by an Israeli decision in 2021 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.