RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Amid mounting global pressure to come clean on the circumstances surrounding the death of its veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia faced more embarrassment on Monday.
For several months now, Saudi Arabia's young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has spear-headed an ambitious plan to overhaul the Kingdom's economy and reduce its reliance on oil over the next three years.
The second annual Future Investment Initiative conference, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” was at the heart of the economic reform policy being pursued by the Kingdom.
The conference billed itself as “a blueprint for the 22nd century” that is bringing together “the world’s most visionary and influential leaders in business, government and civil society."
Spread over three days from October 23 to 25, the summit was planned to be an opportunity for the Kingdom to woo powerful diplomats, top corporates and global investors, who were set to be present in Riyadh for the key summit.
However, the Kingdom's efforts to enhance its image and secure lucrative deals hit a major roadblock earlier this month, following an appalling scandal over the disappearance of the prominent Saudi journalist.
Shrouded in mystery
The mysterious disappearance of the 59-year-old journalist, who entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2 but never returned, caused widespread concerns over the Kingdom's possible role in executing its top critic.
Over the two weeks since then, Saudi's changing version of events surrounding Khashoggi's fate further dented its economic reform plans as several top companies, diplomats and high-profile attendees pulled out of the summit.
Saudi feigned ignorance over Khashoggi's fate for 17 days, then admitted that the journalist had died in a brawl within its consulate.
Causing further alarm, merely 24 hours after its shocking admission, Saudi suddenly changed the story.
On Sunday, the Kingdom attempted to shield the Crown Prince, who was widely suspected to have ordered Khashoggi's execution after his closest aides were fired in relation to the case.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir vehemently denied any role by the Crown Prince in Khashoggi's killing, pointing out that the journalist had been murdered in a rogue operation.
With the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's death still shrouded in mystery, the Kingdom was left red faced on Monday after the website for its crucial summit was hacked.
On Monday, the Kingdom faced another devastating blow, after the website of its Future Investment Initiative was hacked.
The most shocking part of the ordeal was what appeared on the website after it had been compromised.
In an apparent bid to shame the Kingdom's powerful rulers, hackers defaced the website with a disturbing doctored image that showed Saudi's influential Crown Prince brandishing a large sword and standing over Khashoggi, who is seen knelt down before him.
The image depicts the Kingdom's de facto ruler poised to behead the journalist, who is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit akin to the infamous Islamic State executions that were captured on camera and posted online.
The clothes that the Crown Prince is seen sporting in the image feature the word 'ISIS.'
The horrific image was accompanied by a message posted by the hackers, which accused the Kingdom of financing terrorism.
The message on the hacked website read, "Saudi regime is one of the sources for #Terrorism_Financing in the world.”
Hackers continued their message at the bottom of the hacked page and wrote, "Saudi Arabia’s support of '17+' terrorist groups has led to the deaths of more than 42,000 people in Yemen and 89,000 civilians in Syria."
The message stated, “For the sake of security for children worldwide, we urge all countries to put sanctions on the Saudi regime."
The attackers added, "The regime, aligned with the United States, must be kept responsible for its barbaric and inhuman action, such as killing its own citizen Jamal Khashoggi and thousands of innocent people in Yemen. The medieval Saudi regime is one of the sources of #Terrorism_Financing in the world.”
In a different webpage, the hackers put up links to three YouTube videos dated October 22 that had been posted by an account named bestnews2030.
One of the videos included clips from the meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince.
A message posted alongside read, “Exposing a thousand terrorists and spies of the Saudi regime who perform malicious activities around the globe."
Screenshots of the defaced website began circulating almost immediately on Twitter and other social media sites and soon went viral.
Soon after Saudi authorities learnt of the cyberattack, the website was pulled and remained inaccessible.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) that is organizing the summit, refrained from making a public statement over the hacking of the conference website.
A report in the pro-government Okaz newspaper noted that the website had come under an “electronic attack.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information too has not made any official comments on the hacking.
Meanwhile, the summit, which is set to begin on Tuesday has continued to suffer a rapidly shrinking list of high profile speakers as Saudi's lack of clarity over Khashoggi's killing has triggered a high number of dropouts.
Several politicians and business executives from Europe, North America and Asia, that comprised the list of 150 speakers and 140 organizations at the summit, have now pulled out.