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Moroccan king also targeted by NSO Group’s malware

Moroccan King Mohammed VI waves to a crowd as he arrives for the opening session of the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat, Morocco, on October 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Moroccan King Mohammed VI waves to a crowd as he arrives for the opening session of the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat, Morocco, on October 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s phone is on a list of numbers of people identified as potential Pegasus spyware targets by Morocco’s intelligence services, French radio reports.

Radio France makes the claim two days after it and several other news outlets, including The Washington Post and The Guardian, reported that the Israeli software had been used by governments to spy on activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians around the world.

The bombshell claims were based on a leaked document containing 50,000 numbers of people identified as potential targets for Pegasus between 2016 and June 2021.

The list was dominated by numbers from 10 countries — Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

On Monday, Morocco denied the allegations, saying it had “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.”

On Tuesday, Radio France claims the country’s monarch was on the list, as well as “a large number” of Moroccan royals.

The list is said to include the king’s wife Lalla Salma Bennani; his cousin Prince Moulay Hicham Alaoui, nicknamed the “red prince” for his progressive views; a former son-in-law of the late King Hassan II; entrepreneur Fouad Filali; and Hassan II’s former bodyguard, Mohamed Mediouri, who is the current king’s stepfather.

“But what is most surprising, when you look closely at this list, is that the sovereign himself is among those whose numbers were selected as potential Pegasus targets,” the report says.

Radio France says it and its partners in the Forbidden Stories media consortium had established “that one of the telephone numbers that figures on the listing of the Moroccan intelligence services is indeed that of Mohammed VI.”

Radio France adds that “his entire entourage suffered the same fate,” including the king’s chamberlain, Sidi Mohammed Alaoui, three members of the his family, and his personal secretary.

The list is said to also include the number of the head of Morocco’s royal gendarmerie, as well as the king’s former top bodyguard, Hassan Charrat.

It was not possible to immediately verify the claims.

Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can switch on a target’s phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning a phone into a pocket spy. In some cases, it can be installed without the need to trick a user into initiating a download.

NSO Group has denied selling the software to authoritarian governments for the purposes of spying on dissenters, labelling the allegations “false.”

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