Skip to main content

FBI assisted Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed capture Princess Latifa: Report

US agency obtained geolocation of Princess Latifa's yacht and provided information to Dubai authorities, USA Today reports
Earlier this year, Princess Latifa shared secret recordings filmed inside a Dubai villa where she said she was being held hostage (Supplied)
By MEE staff in Washington

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly provided assistance to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum that was essential in capturing his daughter Princess Latifa, USA Today reported.

The FBI is reported to have obtained the geolocation data of the yacht that Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum used to escape the UAE in 2018, via a US-based internet service provider, and provided the information to Dubai authorities, the newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The FBI's intervention came after Dubai officials claimed the princess had been kidnapped and needed emergency assistance to secure her release, the newspaper reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Princess Latifa: Captive Dubai royal seen on holiday in Spain
Read More »

The reason the FBI intervened was because the bureau was misled about Latifa's circumstances on the boat, the sources said.

"The FBI truly believed this was a kidnapping case and the US was saving the day," said one person with direct knowledge of the operation.

Latifa's location was able to be tracked because she had communicated while on the yacht with people via email, according to the report.

"Latifa's fatal mistake was she checked her email," one person familiar with the operation told USA Today.

"That was the breakthrough. It was cross-checked with other information and databases in the area, and the Emiratis were able to figure out precisely which boat she was on, and where that boat was located." 

Daughters kept captive

Last year, a British judge ruled that Sheikh Mohammed was keeping both his daughters captive and had kidnapped the two on separate occasions. In 2018, Latifa escaped Dubai with the help of her friend, a Finnish capoeira instructor, Tiina Jauhiainen.

Eight days later, when she travelled as far as India's Malabar coast, Indian - then Emirati - forces violently boarded her boat and returned her to Dubai.

The 35-year-old princess has said that men from the UAE sat on her, tried to tie her up and injected her with a sedative after she attempted to escape.

In February, the BBC broadcast videos secretly recorded by Latifa and sent to friends abroad, in which she described her capture and her imprisonment after her return to the emirate.

She said she was being held alone without access to medical or legal help in a locked villa guarded by police.

Last month, she was seen in Spain in Instagram photos, with a campaign group supporting her saying there had been "very positive steps forward" in terms of her personal freedom.

"We are no doubt joined by tens of thousands around the world that supported Latifa these last three years when we say we are pleased to see Latifa seemingly having a passport, travelling and enjoying an increasing degree of freedom, these are very positive steps forward," David Haigh, co-founder of the Free Latifa campaign and Detained International, said in a statement.

'It doesn't sound right'

The assistance provided by the FBI in Latifa's capture may have also violated the agency's protocols if they had obtained the data without a subpoena.

The report, if true, would also raise questions about the US government's human rights priorities, after the capture of the princess was deplored by many activists and rights groups.

The Biden administration vowed to make human rights a cornerstone of its foreign policy and international dealings.

Still, multiple former FBI agents and ex-US intelligence officials with no knowledge of the operation expressed scepticism over whether Washington's involvement in the operation took place as described by the newspaper's sources.

"It doesn't sound right. This is not how it should happen," said one former CIA officer, who requested anonymity. 

The former US intelligence officer said there were few reasons why the FBI or Emirati intelligence services would need help from a private company in the US in obtaining location data such as those that led to Princess Latifa’s forced return. 

"The Emiratis have a tremendous capability themselves. It's unusual they would have gone to the US for help in the first place," the former intelligence official said. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.