ABU DHABI, U.A.E. - Following a Washington Post report that claimed the United Arab Emirates orchestrated a hack of Qatari state news and social media websites in May, the country has now denied any role.
The hack triggered the region’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades as a report in the State news agencies allegedly falsely quoted Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani as calling Iran - a key rival to Saudi Arabia - an Islamic power and describing Qatari relations with Israel as good.
This led to Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism and cutting ties with Doha.
As Kuwait began moderating the effort to restore peace, along with the U.S., the Saudi-led allied nations then tabled a set of demands to restore ties, which Qatar rejected.
Qatar has claimed its emir never made the remarks and that the quotes were planted by hackers.
In June, U.S. investigators, that had been working in Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hack said that they believed Russian hackers breached the Qatari sites and planted false information and quotes.
The Washington Post report published on Sunday was based on information provided by unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, who claimed U.A.E. had orchestrated the posting of incendiary quotes attributed to Qatar's emir.
The officials were quoted as saying that newly-analysed information confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the U.A.E. government had discussed a plan to hack Qatari state media sites.
Later that day, the official Qatar News Agency quoted Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as criticising U.S. "hostility" towards Iran, describing it as an "Islamic power that cannot be ignored,” and calling Hamas the "legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
Qatari officials said the agency had been hacked by an "unknown entity" and that the story had "no basis whatsoever.”
However, the remarks were reported across the region and caused a stir.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt responded by blocking Qatari media.
Then, two weeks later, the four countries cut all links with Qatar and the boycott caused turmoil in the oil- and gas-rich emirate, which is dependent on imports by land and sea for the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million.
U.S. intelligence officials quoted in the Washington Post report added that it was unclear whether the U.A.E. authorities had hacked the Qatar News Agency itself or paid a third party to do it.
However, the U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash said on Monday that the report was false.
Responding to a question after a speech at Chatham House in London, he said, “The Washington Post story is not true, purely not true,” adding that the story "will die" in the next few days.
Gargash's speech in London appeared to question Qatar's future in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the regional trade and security group.
He also called for a "change of behavior" from Qatar, adding that without one, it would be in the interests of the quartet - Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt - to seek "a separate path from that of Qatar."
He said, “This is our message: You cannot be part of a regional organization dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interests, and at the same time undermine that security and harm those interests. You cannot be both our friend and the friend of Al Qaeda."
Gargash responded to questions on whether Qatar's membership was at stake and repeated his remarks from the speech.
He also repeated accusations that Qatar was trying to create instability in the region and even accused it of conspiring with jihadists against Saudi Arabia.
The U.A.E. embassy in Washington on Monday also sent a series of tweets quoting its ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, denying the Washington Post report.
Al Otaiba was quoted as saying in the tweet, “The @washingtonpost story is false. UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article. What is true is #Qatar's behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas & Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbours.”
Qatar shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia and has repeatedly rejected accusations it supports terrorism, calling them "unjustified" and "baseless."
It rejected the list of 13 demands from Saudi-led allies that included ending support for terrorists and extremists and also shutting down Qatar's Al Jazeera TV network, severing ties with Iran and closing a Turkish military base.
Qatar has acknowledged providing assistance to Islamist groups designated as terrorist organisations by some of its neighbours, notably the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, it has denied aiding jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda or so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
Qatar has said the list and the boycott itself are aimed at "limiting Qatar's sovereignty and outsourcing our foreign policy."
Gargash meanwhile described the list as an "opening gambit" but declined to answer if the quartet would insist on closing Al Jazeera.
He implied the quartet may soften their demands.
On Monday, he also quashed reports that the U.A.E. and five other Arab nations had written to FIFA to demand that Qatar be stripped of the right to host the 2022 World Cup, claiming it was not true.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last week to settle the dispute diplomatically, said that direct talks could take place between the feuding nations.
He, however, warned that resolving the dispute "may take quite a while."