Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum
|Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum|
|Sheikha of Dubai|
|Born||5 December 1985|
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
|Father||Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum|
|Mother||Huriah Ahmed al M’aash|
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
|Reference style||Her Highness|
|Spoken style||Your Highness|
|Princely Family of Dubai|
Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Arabic: شيخة لطيفة بنت محمد بن راشد آل مكتوم, romanized: Laṭīfa bint Muḥammad bin Rāshid al-Maktūm; born 5 December 1985) is an Emirati sheikha and a member of the Dubai ruling family. Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the prime minister of the UAE, and her mother, Huriah Ahmed al M’aash, is from Algeria.
Sheikha Latifa escaped from Dubai in late February 2018 and was forcibly returned from international waters near the Indian coast by a joint India–Emirates operation on 4 March 2018. In December 2018, the Dubai royal court said that she was back in Dubai. She is believed to currently be held against her will under the order of her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
In a video statement, Sheikha Latifa said that she and her brother Sheikh Majid spent their early childhood under the care of their paternal aunt. Her early education was at the Dubai English Speaking School and later at the International School of Choueifat, with one year at the Latifa School for Girls. Sheikha Latifa is an experienced skydiver, coached by former world champion skydiver Stefania Martinengo, and held accelerated freefall instructor rating.
In 2002, at the age of 16 years, a first attempt by Sheikha Latifa to escape ended in her capture at the UAE-Oman border; she was subsequently jailed for three years and four months. She claimed in the video statement to have been kept in solitary confinement and subject to "constant torture", physically through beatings and mentally, during her arrest.
On 24 February 2018, Sheikha Latifa and her Finnish friend Tiina Jauhiainen left Dubai in a car and crossed the border to Oman. They left Oman on jet skis and joined American–French citizen and former French intelligence officer Hervé Jaubert and his crew on the yacht Nostromo. Two days later, she made contact with Radha Stirling of Detained in Dubai, notifying Stirling of her departure from Dubai. She also posted a few departing messages on her verified Instagram social media account.
On 3 March 2018, Jaubert made contact with an Indian journalist in preparation for the end of their journey. The following day, Sheikha Latifa, Jaubert and Jauhiainen, along with the crew of three Philippine nationals, were intercepted by Indian authorities while approaching Goa on the U.S.-registered yacht Nostromo, call sign WDG9847. An investigation by The Guardian and Bureau of Investigative Journalism later revealed that on the same day, Signalling System No. 7 protocol was exploited in an attempt to locate Jaubert's phone.
She had made a 39-minute video before the escape attempt, to be released in case her life was in danger, and it was made public on 11 March 2018. Recorded at Jauhiainen's apartment, the video explains her family background and the circumstances leading to her decision to flee. In the video, she also accuses her father of maltreatment of her and her sister Shamsa along with other serious charges, including murder.
The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation confirmed the disappearance of Jauhiainen and opened an investigation in collaboration with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The brother of Jauhiainen confirmed her friendship with Sheikha Latifa.
On 20 March 2018, Nostromo was spotted at the port of Fujairah in the UAE. It left the next day for Sri Lanka with the released crew, including Jaubert and three Philippine nationals, on board. Nostromo reached Galle, Sri Lanka, on 2 April 2018.
On 22 March 2018, Sheikha Latifa's companion Jauhiainen was found, prompting the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to terminate its search in cooperation with the Dubai authorities. The location where Jauhiainen was found and details of prior events were not shared officially, but according to her family she returned from Dubai to Finland that night.
According to Detained in Dubai, a number of people were detained or interrogated in connection to the event in UAE and Oman, notably Christian Elombo, a French national whose family is living in Luxembourg; Elombo spent more than a month in custody in Oman, from late February to 5 April 2018. After being released without charge, he was again taken into custody in Luxembourg on 6 April 2018 for 41 days under an Interpol Red Notice issued by the UAE. The notice was later retracted without notification or producing any evidence for the cited kidnapping charges.
Interception of the yacht Nostromo
According to the testimonies of the crew, the yacht was being actively searched for by Indian Coast Guard search and rescue aircraft SAR CG 782 on 3 March 2018. On the day of interception the yacht was scouted by another aircraft. Before the raid on 4 March 2018, three marine vessels were spotted on radar by Nostromo's crew, tailing it at a speed of less than 5 knots. Two of the vessels were later identified as ICGS Shoor and ICGS Samarth, described in media statements by Jaubert: "The two coast guards vessels had a huge marking on the side of the hull, which read 'Indian Coast Guard' and one had an ID number painted: 11".
After sunset two unmarked speedboats carrying six to eight armed Indian MARCOS Special Forces personnel in full military gear and Tavor assault rifles were launched from these ships to intercept Nostromo. The raid began with the use of stun and smoke grenades to disorient and incapacitate the crew, who were then handcuffed. After being taken over by Indian Coast Guard, the yacht was boarded by at least ten Emirati special forces personnel, who arrived by helicopter. Sheikha Latifa, despite claiming asylum to Indian personnel and expressing a clear unwillingness to go back to the UAE from where she was fleeing, was forcefully taken away onto one of the ships. Nostromo and the rest of the crew were taken to the naval base in Fujairah, escorted by the Indian Coast Guard and then transferred to UAE warship Baynunah.
According to Radha Stirling's account, she received her last voice message from Latifa during the alleged raid in a panicked state, telling her "Radha please help me, there are men outside" and that she had heard "gunshots". Further attempts of communication from those on-board Nostromo allegedly failed due to jamming from an Indian electronic warfare aircraft.
Media reactions and aftermath
In the early days after the disappearance of the yacht Nostromo and its crew, the news was primarily carried on English and Finnish tabloids, backed up by awareness campaigns in social media. Jauhiainen and Jaubert made their first public appearance after the incident in a press conference arranged by Detained in Dubai in London despite facing alleged threats from the UAE government to stay silent.
Following a period without mention in the Gulf media, the Western media reported in mid-April the first reaction from the UAE, originating from an anonymous source close to the Dubai government. According to that source, Sheikha Latifa had been "brought back", that she was now "with her family", and that she was "doing excellent". The source further claimed the incident had been a "private matter" that had been used to "tarnish the reputation of Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed," and said that three of those who had accompanied Sheikha Latifa were wanted in Dubai on previous charges. In May 2018, Human Rights Watch questioned Dubai's story, and asked Dubai's authorities to reveal her location, adding: "[f]ailure to disclose the whereabouts and status of the princess could qualify as an enforced disappearance". Dubai authorities said that they could not comment on her case due to legal reasons. The UN OHCHR Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance sought responses on allegations from the Governments of India and UAE.
Ad-Diyaar, a mainstream Arab newspaper, also published calls by Human Rights Watch raising the issue that Sheikha Latifa had been forcibly hidden. Support groups also raised awareness of the campaign at the 2018 Kentucky Derby by flying a banner saying "DUBAI, WHERE IS PRINCESS LATIFA?".
The UAE-controlled media began reporting extensively about the social activities of her half-sister with the same name, who serves as Vice Chairman of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture). Many news outlets reported show jumper Sheikha Latifah bint Ahmed bin Juma Al Maktoum as missing, due to similarity in names.
The Indian government was widely criticised for its extrajudicial outreach, citing national interests and disregard of formal legal process. Indian media reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his advisers were directly involved in giving the orders for interception at the request of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and didn't seek any formal request from UAE. An Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson claimed that "[n]o such incident has been brought to our notice." Deputy Commandant Avinandan Mitra of the Indian Coast Guard, in response to media queries about this incident near the Indian coastline, said that "we have no such information or operation." Indian Intelligence agencies said they were trying to verify the claims but had no further comment. On 2 January 2019, Minister of State for External Affairs V. K. Singh denied any involvement of Indian Government in repatriation of emirati princess while replying to a question raised by member of parliament Saugata Roy.
Similarly, the Finnish government was criticised for not raising concerns about a human rights violation of one of their citizens to Indian authorities. A day later, the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Timo Soini, responded, saying Finland had been in correspondence with UAE and Indian officials about the issue outside of media.
Amnesty International, on 4 September 2018, released a public statement appealing to the government of UAE to disclose the whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa and uphold its international legal obligations, while also calling upon the Indian government to investigate any role of its security forces and officials involved in the raid on Nostromo and unlawful excesses that may have been committed.
On 6 December 2018, the release of the BBC Two documentary Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess elicited the first official response on the matter from the Dubai royal court in the form of a brief statement saying that Latifa was safe at home. The documentary covered the escape attempt that Sheikha Latifa had spent seven years planning and also looking into a similar attempt by her sister Shamsa in 2000. In January 2019, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's wife, Princess Haya al-Hussein of Jordan, half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, spoke in defense of Dubai's treatment of Sheikha Latifa. After news reports of Princess Haya's alleged separation with Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, human rights campaigners called on Princess Haya to speak out on her stepdaughter Latifa's fate in Dubai.
The matter was referred to the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions by Guernica 37, a London-based law firm representing Latifa and her two friends. Chairman-rapporteur, Bernard Duhaime of the UN's working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances wrote to Dubai's royal family requesting evidence that Latifa was alive and the grounds on which she was being held captive or else they would have to make a public statement.
In February 2021, a UN investigation determined that the princess was exchanged for British arms dealer Christian Michel, who was extradited from Dubai to Delhi to be tried for paying bribes.
Visit from Mary Robinson
On 24 December 2018, three low-resolution photographs taken on 15 December 2018, showing Sheikha Latifa alongside Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, were released by UAE authorities. According to Mary Robinson, the meeting was arranged by one of the wives of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Princess Haya. Robinson described Latifa in a BBC Radio 4 interview as a "troubled young woman" who regretted making the earlier video in which she alleged abuse, and was receiving psychiatric care. The comments were criticised by various rights groups and Detained in Dubai's head Radha Stirling for reciting Dubai's official version of the events "almost verbatim". Human rights groups and associates of Sheikha Latifa questioned the nature of the brief visit, calling for independent investigation and assessment of her situation and disputing suggestions of any psychiatric problems and reiterating the possibility of her being held under captivity. Robinson later told the BBC that she had been "horribly tricked".
David Haigh and Marcus Essabri, Latifa's cousin, commenting on the released photos of Latifa, stated that Sheikha Latifa appears to be forcibly medicated while held in Dubai under orders of her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
2019 court proceedings
In December 2019, a UK family court ruled that – on the balance of probabilities – Sheikh Mohammed orchestrated the abductions of Sheikha Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa and subjected Princess Haya to a campaign of "intimidation"; the findings were published in March 2020.
Human rights activists were able to covertly re-establish communication with Latifa while she was being held captive in a private villa in Dubai for at least a year after her attempted escape from her family in February 2018. They were able to obtain text and video messages from her during this period. After about a year and half the communication abruptly ended on 21 July 2020 when Latifa stopped responding to messages.
In February 2021, smuggled footage obtained by BBC program Panorama showed Sheikha Latifa recounting how she fought back against the soldiers taking her off the boat until she was tranquilized and later carried onto a private jet which landed in Dubai. The United Nations human rights office asked the UAE to present a proof that Princess Latifa is alive. Nearly two months later, on 9 April 2021, the organization said that while the Emirates stated that Sheikha Latifa was being cared for by her family, the country failed to provide a "proof of life" for her. On the same occasion, a spokesperson said that the Emirates had in principle agreed to a meeting about Sheikha Latifa between senior United Nations officials and the Emirati ambassador in Geneva. On 21 April, independent United Nations advisers said in a statement that they were "alarmed" that the Emirates had not provided any concrete information, and that the statement by the Emirati authorities was not sufficient. The United States response to the statement, which said that freedom from arbitrary detention was a universal human right, was described in the New York Times as "muted".
2021 Kentucky Derby complaint
On 28 April 2021, days before the Kentucky Derby in which Sheikha Latifa's father Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had a horse named Essential Quality who was considered a favorite to win, a group of human rights lawyers and students at the University of Louisville filed a complaint with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, asking for the Sheikh and Essential Quality to be barred from the Derby on the grounds of Sheikha Latifa's alleged situation. The Racing Commission announced on 29 April that as the complaint had not articulated a violation of its regulations, no sanctions would be put in place.
2021 Dubai Mall photo appearance
On 22 May 2021, a photo that appears to show Princess Latifa alive has been posted online and shared on two public Instagram accounts. The photo appears to be in a Dubai shopping mall, the Mall of the Emirates, as she is seen sitting with two other women. Although the image has not been verified, a friend of Latifa's confirmed that it is the princess in the picture. According to sources, the women who posted the proof of life of Princess Latifa in the May 2021 pictures of her from a restaurant at a shopping mall were paid to do so.
2021 Madrid–Barajas Airport appearance
In June 2021, pictures of Latifa at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport were posted on Instagram by former Royal Navy member Sioned Taylor, who had also published photos showing Latifa in the Mall of the Emirates. She mentioned they were on a "Great European holiday with Latifa". David Haigh, co-founder of the Free Latifa campaign stated that they were "pleased to see Latifa seemingly having a passport, traveling and enjoying an increasing degree of freedom", and confirmed that several campaign members had been contacted directly by the princess herself.
2021 UAE Pegasus surveillance leaks
In July 2021, leaked data from surveillance firm NSO Group Pegasus spyware revealed the presence of Latifa's among UAE-targeted phone numbers, as well as several of her close friends, as being possible targets. Pegasus spyware allows full access, including GPS, to target phones, and may have helped to track Latifa's escape route.
Mobile device of human rights activist in communication with Latifa was also found to be compromised with Pegasus. Activist had been covertly exchanging videos and text messages with Latifa for about a year and a half while she was being held in captivity after her forced returned to Dubai in Feb 2018.
In May 2018, Helene Jaubert, ex-wife of former French Navy officer Hervé Jaubert told The Daily Beast that Jaubert and Radha Stirling had been in contact with Latifa for five years, and invented the scheme together: "The whole plan was for Hervé to help her escape and once he got her out the daughter was going to get to the dad and say 'I want $3 million or else I'll tell all to the media'. It was a con. It's a corrupt scheme gone haywire". According to Stirling, Latifa phoned her from the boat in the middle of the ambush, saying she feared for her life and "was hearing gunshots". Latifa made the call via WhatsApp and evidence of the call was provided to authorities in the United States and the United Kingdom and made available to reporters. The Daily Beast pointed out that a satellite phone is normally needed to call from their alleged location in the Indian Ocean. However, it was established that the Nostromo was outfitted with satellite phone. In August 2019, Tiina Jauhiainen gave her version of events to online magazine Insider.
FBI's role in her capture
According to USA Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), "responding to an urgent plea from the powerful Dubai leader's office, provided assistance essential to her capture." The FBI declined to comment.
|Ancestors of Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum|
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In the video, Sheikha Latifa talks of her skydiving hobby. Kristen Cotten, a 33-year-old skydive instructor and friend of Sheikha Latifa, told the AP the woman in the video and the identification documents is indeed her friend. "I think a lot of people think it's fake just because it sounds so crazy," said Cotten, who was an instructor in Dubai between 2012 and 2016 and now lives in Minnesota. "If I hadn't worked with her and known her and seen her every day I'd probably feel the same way. But that's the same girl I saw every day at the drop zone." Sheikha Latifa also was shown and identified in pictures from 2016 and 2017 on an Instagram account connected to her skydiving club. Past articles in state-linked media also confirm she is a daughter of the ruler.
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...It was the Indian who attacked us, who brutalized us it was the Indians. Once the Indians took over the boat, the Emirati came on-board, they came from a Helicopter. Special forces Emirati, they came on-board they took over and Indians left. But they did not leave completely, they were escorting us. I saw their warships on both side of the boat, they were escorting us. I know they were Indian Coast Guard because there was painted on the side of the hull, the marking 'Indian Coast Guard' and one of the ship had number '11'...
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– Och de berättar samma historia: den indiska kustbevakningen kom tungt beväpnad med fem militärfartyg och två flygplan, av vilka ett var utrustat för elektronisk krigföring, det vill säga för att kapa Nostromos kommunikationsmöjligheter. Personerna ombord greps under våldsamma omständigheter. Prinsessan Latifa flögs från Indien till Dubai, medan de andra fördes till fartyg tillhörande Förenade Arabemiraten (UAE) och transporterades sjövägen till Dubai, fortsätter hon.
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Friends of Latifa al-Maktoum flew a banner at this weekend's Kentucky Derby
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