The Moroccan government is denying reports that the country’s security forces may have used spyware created by Israel’s NSO group on the cellphones of the French president and other public figures.
On Wednesday, the public prosecutor’s office ordered an investigation into what Moroccan security services have called false allegations that NSO malware was used to spy on activists, journalists and politicians in several countries.
The French prime minister said on Wednesday that several investigations were underway into any wrongdoing.
The Moroccan government rebuked in a statement late Tuesday a global media consortium investigating NSO’s suspected widespread use of Pegasus spyware to target journalists, human rights activists and politicians in several countries. The government threatened unspecified legal action.
The French newspaper Le Monde, a member of the consortium, reported that the cellphones of President Emmanuel Macron and 15 then-members of the French government could be one of the possible targets of surveillance by Pegasus spyware from Morocco’s security agency in 2019.
French public broadcaster Radio France reported that the phones of Moroccan King Mohammed VI and his crew were also among the possible targets.
“The Kingdom of Morocco strongly condemns the persistent false, large-scale and malicious media campaign,” the statement said. The government said it “rejects these false and baseless allegations, and challenges its peddlers … to provide any solid and material evidence in support of their true stories.”
The consortium identified potential targets from a leaked list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International.
Members of the consortium said they have been able to link more than 1,000 numbers on the list with individuals. Most were in Mexico and the Middle East.
Although the presence of phone numbers in the data does not necessarily mean that an attempt was made to hack a device, the consortium said it believes the data reflects potential targets of NSO’s government customers.
The consortium reported that the list contained the phone numbers of members of the Arab royal family, heads of state and prime ministers from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Morocco and Rwanda, as well as those of the Arabs.
The Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating the alleged use of spyware, and French experts have called for more protection for the cell phones of key officials.
French Prime Minister Jean Casteux said on Wednesday that the president had “ordered a series of investigations,” but said it was too early to comment or announce any new security measures or other action without knowing “exactly what happened”.
The NSO group denied that it ever maintained “a list of potential, past or current targets”. It called the Forbidden Stories report “full of misconceptions and unconfirmed theories”.
The source of the leak – and how it was certified – was not disclosed.