Dubai police arrested foreign hackers in 2015 who targeted five senior Obama White House officials in a blackmail email scam and plan to turn them over to U.S. authorities after they complete their prison sentences, state-owned media reported, according to Bloomberg.
The Arabic-language Al Bayan newspaper and the television channel Dubai One reported the arrests, while Dubai police did not answer repeated calls for comment. The arrests come as the United Arab Emirates, which hosts some 4,000 U.S. troops fighting the Islamic State group, remains a crucial regional ally.
The White House had no immediate comment on the reports.
Al Bayan quoted Maj. Saud al-Khalidi of Dubai police’s cybercrime division as saying an “African gang” broke into the emails of the five senior officials and “got highly confidential information.” He said the hackers then demanded money from their targets in threatening emails. The U.S. then asked Dubai police for assistance.
Al-Khalidi was quoted as saying that investigators tracked down the gang “in two hours” to an apartment in the emirate of Ajman and arrested three suspects with the help of local authorities.
“Police reportedly faced resistance from the hackers but they were effectively subdued and arrested,” Dubai One reported in its nightly newscast. “Police say this was not their first operation, although it was their first offense here in the UAE. The hackers allegedly made it a business to sell information they managed to extract, moving from one country to another after every cyberattack.”
Those arrested are between 24 and 26 years old and had a list of “5 million bank accounts,” as well as hacking software and millions of dollars in assets, al-Khalidi said. The details mirrored those of a July 2015 Ajman raid previously announced by the UAE’s Interior Ministry in which three Nigerians were arrested. However, in that raid, officials only said they had “received information from the security authorities in the U.S. state of California,” never mentioning any connection to the White House.
The National, a state-owned newspaper in Abu Dhabi, reported Tuesday that the two raids were in fact the same one and that the Nigerians would be handed over to U.S. authorities after serving their prison sentences in the UAE.
None of the reports identified the White House officials targeted in the Obama administration. Al-Khalidi reportedly said those suspects would be handed over to the United States for possible criminal trials.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi did not respond to requests for comment.