Heavy-armed commandos kidnapped the princess on a yacht in the Indian Ocean.
Despite her pleas, which were confirmed by two eyewitnesses aboard the US-flagged yacht Nostromo, the princess was dragged off the ship and returned to Dubai and her father’s rule.
For more than three years, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-whereabouts Maktoum’s daughter’s have remained a mystery – until now.
An investigation determined that the FBI, in response to an urgent request from the powerful Dubai leader’s office, provided critical assistance in her capture. According to multiple people familiar with the FBI’s role in the highly sensitive operation, the FBI obtained and provided data about the yacht’s location to the Dubai government after officials there claimed the princess had been kidnapped and required emergency aid to secure her release.
If the agents obtained the data without first subpoenaing the provider, they may have violated FBI protocols, according to legal experts.
It was unclear whether the FBI, which declined to comment on the matter, was aware that the request for assistance appeared to be misleading. In May, images purportedly showing her in public in Dubai for the first time since December 2018 were posted on two Instagram accounts. One of the accounts posted a photo of Latifa, 35, allegedly in an airport in Spain, where she was vacationing, in late June.
Shortly before this story was published, the London-based law firm Taylor Wessing issued a statement attributed to the princess, claiming that the photos were released to prove her innocence “I can go wherever I want. I’m hoping that I can now live my life in peace.” The UAE authorities have repeatedly refused the UN’s requests for proof of life, and it is unclear whether the new photos and Latifa’s statement were released with her permission. Taylor Wessing is adamant that they were.
The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The White House and State Department both refused to comment on the FBI’s involvement or other issues.
Given the level of outrage generated by the case among human rights activists, the FBI’s involvement in Princess Latifa’s kidnapping raises potentially difficult questions for the US government. It also raises concerns about protocol adherence within the bureau’s vast international operation, where agents have maintained mutual aid agreements with law enforcement counterparts in 63 offices around the world for decades.
Rather than seeking a subpoena for Nostromo’s location, agents contacted the internet provider and stated that they needed assistance due to a public safety emergency, according to people familiar with the operation.
According to those briefed on the operation, the agents did not formally document the request, as required by bureau protocol, by opening what is known as a foreign policing cooperation case, which allows bureau officials to track developments related to the request.
Details of Latifa’s escape and claims of mistreatment have emerged from a court proceeding in the United Kingdom in 2020, the princess’s own public statements, eyewitness accounts, and numerous published reports.
Despite the fact that her father had no idea where she was, Sheikh Mohammed’s office contacted an FBI agent stationed at the United States Consulate in Dubai. The agent was informed that Mohammed’s daughter had been kidnapped and that a ransom had been demanded. According to multiple sources, Princess Latifa was attempting to flee her father for the second time.
Mohammed’s office requested emergency assistance from an FBI agent in determining when and where Latifa’s email accounts were last checked. Internet service providers typically have access to this type of data. The agent immediately contacted FBI headquarters in Washington, but was given no specific instructions on how to proceed. The agent’s boss, who was stationed at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, was also consulted.
The FBI agent in Dubai made direct contact with Nostromo’s satellite company. According to people familiar with the operation, the agent was told a subpoena was required, but the request was elevated, and the company agreed to release the information after the agent insisted it was an emergency situation involving a hostage who was the daughter of the leader of a close U.S. ally in the Middle East.