The Arab country of Qatar, bordered by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, has been accused of allowing terror financiers to operate within its borders. The country has been called “the Club Med for Terrorists” and “most two-faced nation in the world, backing the U.S.-led coalition against the militants of the Islamic State while providing a permissive environment”, in the words of one top American official, “for terrorist financiers to operate with impunity”. Accusations come from a wide variety of sources including intelligence reports, government officials, and journalists. The Telegraph, a British newspaper, even started a “Stop the Funding of Terror” journalism campaign.
In 2014, former Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki stated that Qatar and Saudi Arabia started the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, and incited and encouraged terrorist movements, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, supporting them politically and in the media, with money and by buying weapons for them.
One of the leaked Podesta emails from August 2014, addressed to John Podesta, identifies Qatar and Saudi Arabia as providing “clandestine,” “financial and logistic” aid to ISIL and other “radical Sunni groups.” The email outlines a plan of action against ISIL, and urges putting pressure on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to end their alleged support for the group. Whether the email was originally written by Hillary Clinton, her advisor Sidney Blumenthal, or another person is unclear.
In response to these allegations, on September 25, 2014, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, went on American television to defend his country against claims that it harbors terrorist financiers. In an interview on CNN, the Emir stated that Qatar is committed to fighting ISIS for the long term.
The Qatari government has a designated terrorist list. As of 2014, the list contained no names. In general, in spite of its official commitment to a number of domestic and international initiatives centered on countering terrorist finance, Qatar remains non-compliant with international sanctions designating terrorists based on its territory, many of which still live with impunity on Qatari soil.
The violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan is partly bankrolled by wealthy, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them. Three other Arab countries which are listed as sources of militant money are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
In 2003, the U.S Congress was made aware that a plethora of charities based in Qatar were supporting al-Qaeda‘s activities by helping move and launder funds for the terrorist group. In December 2013, the United States designated Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaymi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGTs). Nuaymi is based in Qatar. The U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions on Nuaymi and declared him a “Qatar-based terrorist financier and facilitator who has provided money and material support and conveyed communications to al-Qa’ida and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen for more than a decade.”
In December 2014, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Pete Roskam (R-IL) requested that the U.S. government, in a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, impose sanctions on Qatar. The two congressmen asked for a full report on activities within Qatar from individuals, charities and organizations that fund Hamas, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the al-Nusra Front.
In December 2014, 24 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed a letter suggesting that Qatar and Turkey be subject to U.S. sanctions if their governments keep turning a blind eye to terror finance.
On May 10, 2016 Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) petitioned Jacob Lewis, currently serving as the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, with a letter in which he emphasized Qatar’s enduring non-compliance with its commitment to the 2014 Jeddah Communiqué, a statement from the representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and the U.S. declaring that they would “stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism”.
Sen. Kirk emphasized that Qatar remains a “permissive environment for terrorist financing”, and urged U.S. authorities to address Qatar’s permissiveness towards terrorist financing, a source of further regional and international instability, by enforcing measures that would make Qatar abstain from continuing sponsorship to terrorism.
The Country Report on Terrorism 2015 released by the U.S. State Department on June 2, 2016 remarks that, in spite of Qatar’s nominal membership and engagement in a number of counterterrorism and terror finance initiatives, “entities and individuals within Qatar continue to serve as a source of financial support for terrorist and violent extremist groups, particularly regional al-Qa’ida affiliates such as the Nusra Front“.
In June 9, 2017, during a press conference, US President Trump blamed Qatar, stating it has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.
Activities of various groups in Qatar
Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl was Osama bin Laden‘s former business agent. He defected to the United States in 1996. In testimony to the 9/11 Commission and Congress, Al-Fadl said that Bin Laden told him in 1993 that the Qatar Charitable Society (QCS), which was later renamed to Qatar Charity, was one of Bin Laden’s main sources of funding.
In 2003, The New York Times wrote:
“Private support from prominent Qataris to Al Qaeda is a sensitive issue that is said to infuriate George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. After the Sept. 11 attacks, another senior Qaeda operative, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who may have been the principal planner of the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was said by Saudi intelligence officials to have spent two weeks in late 2001 hiding in Qatar, with the help of prominent patrons, after he escaped from Kuwait.”
Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy and Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaymi are senior-level financiers of al-Qaeda. In 2014, U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, announced that the two men were living freely in Qatar. Both men were on a worldwide terrorist blacklist. Al-Subaiy, as it turned out, had previously worked at the Qatar Central Bank.
In response to Cohen’s announcement and the release of the U.S. intelligence report, reporters from The Telegraph contacted Qatari officials. According to The Telegraph, “Qatar has refused to answer”.
At one time, Al-Nuaymi was the president of the Qatar Football Association. The U.S. report said that he sent more than 1.25 million British pounds per month to Al-Qaeda jihadist fighters in Iraq. He sent hundreds of thousands of pounds to fighters in Syria. The United States designated Al-Nuaymi as a terrorist in 2013. Britain sanctioned him in 2014.
According to Swiss registration records, Al-Nuayimi is the founder of Alkarama, a human rights NGO based in Switzerland established in 2004 to serve as a bridge between human rights mechanisms and individuals victims of violations in the Arab World. Most of Al-Nuaymi’s activities in support to al-Qaeda trace back to the time following the establishment of Alkarama, yet the charity’s alleged ties with Al-Qaeda transcend Al-Nuaymi’s activities. Rachid Mesli, Alkarama’s legal director, was arrested at the Swiss-Italian border in August 2015 due to a 2002 international warrant issued by the Algerian authorities. Algeria accused Mesli of supporting terrorism for cooperating with a legal team of the Islamic Salvation Front. Mesli was later released. Alkarama was designated as a terrorist organization in November 2015 by the UAE government.
Al-Nuaymi is knowingly associated with Abd al-Wahhab Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman Al-Humayqani, a Specially Designated Global terrorist (SDGT) whom the US Treasury sanctioned in 2013 for his role as fundraiser and executive for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The US Treasury claimed that in 2012 Al-Nuaymi supported financially a charity directed by Humayqani. By exploiting his status in the charitable community, Humayqani allegedly raised funds and facilitated transfers from al-Qaeda supporters based in Saudi Arabia to Yemen. Reportedly Humayqani had high level connections with al-Qaeda top operatives and often acted as an AQAP representative while meeting with Yemeni authorities. On behalf of AQAP, he allegedly recruited individuals for several murderous attacks in Yemen, and personally directed a “group of armed AQAP associates that intended to carry out attacks on Yemeni government facilities and institutions, including a Yemeni government building in al-Bayda Governorate”.
About ten months after being sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, Nuaimi was also restrained from doing business in the UK. Al-Subaiy and Al-Nuaymi have close ties to senior leaders in the Qatari government. Robert Medick, a reporter for The Telegraph‘s “Stop the Funding of Terror” campaign, wrote in 2014 that Qatar “turned a blind eye to terrorist financiers operating within their midst”.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Subayi also provided financial support to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani al-Qaeda senior officer purported to be one of the architects of the 9/11 attacks.
On August 4, 2015 the US Treasury sanctioned Qatari citizen Abd al-Latif Bin Abdallah Salih Muhammad al-Kawari for his alleged support to al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the Treasury’s designation, al-Kawari had worked with al-Qaeda facilitators since the early 2000s in his role as financier and security official for the terrorist group.(7)(8) Al-Kawari is also reported to have worked with US and UN terrorist designated al-Qaeda affiliates Mustafa Hajji Muhammad Khan and Ibrahim Isa Haji Muhammad al-Bakr to have funds delivered to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
In 2012, al-Kawari allegedly coordinated “the delivery of funding from Qatari financiers intended to support al-Qaida and to deliver receipts confirming that al-Qaida received foreign donor funding from Qatar-based extremists”. He also provided assistance to an al-Qaeda courier who was transporting several thousands of dollars to al-Qaeda’s officials.
Furthermore, Qatar Charity (once known as the Qatar Charitable Society), Qatar-s largest NGO, has played a key role in funneling financial support to al-Qaeda.(14) Legal proceedings from the trial United States vs. Enaam M. Arnaout report that in 1993 Osama Bin Laden mentioned Qatar Charity as one of the preferred channels to funnel financial support to al-Qaeda operatives overseas. Former Qatar Charity employee and al-Qaeda defector al-Fadl confirmed the affiliation between al-Qaeda and the Qatari Charity. Al-Fadl declared to have personally cooperated with Qatar Charity’s director in the late 1990s, Abdullah Mohammed Yusef, who was affiliated to al-Qaeda and also engaged in the National Islamic Front, a Sudanese political group that protected Osama Bin Laden. The Consortium Against Terrorist Finance reported that Qatar Charity also channeled funds to Chechnya-based al-Qaeda operatives in 1999, as well as to Ansar Dine in North Mali.
Finally, during the 2011 revolution that ousted Libyan colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Qatar provided financial and material support amounting to “millions of dollars in aid, military training and more than 20,000 tons of weapons” to anti-Gaddafi rebels, which was channeled through few key figures, some of which tied to al-Qaeda. In particular, Abdelhakim Belhadj, a Libyan politician and military leader who directed the defunct, UN terrorist designated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFT) during the 2011 revolution, was among the Qatar-backed key players in Libya and the recipient of several Qatar-paid shipments. Several members of the group, which had tried to overthrow Gaddafi since 1994, had solid ties to al-Qaeda.
Belhadj reportedly followed Bin Laden when he moved al-Qaeda headquarters in Sudan in 1996. Furthermore, the UN Security Council claimed that LIFT contributed to “the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf or in support of” al-Qaeda, its leader, and the Taliban.
Qatar has sponsored al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, since 2013. The jihadist group, established within the framework of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s plans for an Islamic State in the Levant, has parted ways from ISIS in 2013 due to leadership conflicts. The group was designated as terrorist entity by the UN, the EU, Canada, the U.S., Israel, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Australia. Nonetheless, Qatar has continuously supported it through ransom payments and fundraising campaigns as a strategic ally in Syria, committed to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Qatar has acted as mediator for the release of prisoners held by al-Nusra on several occasions, most notably in the case of the 45 UN Fijian peacekeepers kidnapped in August 2014 and in the December 2015 prisoner swap between al-Nusra and the Lebanese government. Qatar has also paid conspicuous ransoms – ranging from few million to hundreds of million dollars- to return hostages kept by al-Nusra.
In addition to ransom payments, the Qatar government as well as Qatari citizens have sponsored large-scale fundraising campaigns to solicit “support for the procurement of weapons, food and supplies for al-Nusra in Syria” which have often relied on social media. “Madid Ahl al-Sham”, a fundraising campaign launched in 2013 and shut down by Qatari authorities only in 2015, became “one of the preferred conduits for donations intended for the group”.
In 2013 Madid Ahl al-Sham was expanded to collect weapons, as announced in a May 2013 Facebook posting. Several prominent figures, from Egyptian cleric Wagdy Ghoneim to wealthy Qatari Abdulaziz bin Khalifa al-Attiyah, overtly endorsed the campaign on their social media profiles. However, the success of the campaign was largely ascribed to its direct coordinators from 2013 to 2015, Sa’ad bin Sa’ad Mohammed Shariyan al-Ka’bi and Abd al-Latif Bin ‘Abdullah Salih Muhammad al-Kuwari. Al-Ka’bi is a Qatari citizen designated by the US Treasury as a terrorist financier who also acted as an intermediary for collecting ransom for hostage exchange with al-Nusra in August 2015. Al-Kawari, another Qatar-based financier and lead actor in Madid Ahl al-Sham, was also designated by the US Treasury for collecting financial support for al-Qaeda and for his role as “an al-Qaida security official”. The Qatari government did not arrest the two terrorist financiers after the Treasury’s designation, and they both continue to live with impunity in the country. U.S. officials also reported that al-Kuwari closely cooperated with Qatar-based Abdallah Ghanim Mafuz Muslim al-Khawar to “deliver money, messages and other material support to al-Qa’ida elements in Iran”, who also facilitated jihadists to travel to Afghanistan.
In November 2014, the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, described Qatar as operating an environment that is tolerant of terrorism financing.
U.S. counterterrorism officials have said that donations from countries outside the U.S. have been a traditional source of financing for terrorism. A small part of ISIS‘s financing operations comes from such donations.
Abdul Karim al-Thani, a member of Qatar’s royal family, ran a safe house for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS. Al-Thani gave Qatari passports out and put $1 million into a bank account to finance AQI.
More rumors about Qatar’s alleged cooperation with ISIS affiliates surfaced in early 2015. On February 11, 2015 Sudan Tribune reported controversial statements by Yahia Sadam, an official of the Minni Minnawi Sudanese liberation movement who accused Qatar of endorsing the genocide perpetrated by Sudanese militiamen in Darfur by funneling money though the Sudanese branch of Qatar Charity, active in Darfur since 2010. Sadam claimed that Qatar Charity, which has purportedly signed a cooperation agreement with the Sudanese troops, was “building housing complexes in remote and isolated areas to harbor and train extremist groups”. Those camps are believed to be hosting ISIS fighters, a concern voiced by attendees from the intelligence community at a March 2015 event at the United States Institute for Peace.
In February 2015, Egypt–Qatar relations deteriorated after the Egyptian Air Force conducted airstrikes on suspected ISIL positions in neighboring Libya following the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. The airstrikes were condemned by Al Jazeera, who broadcast images of civilian casualties. Additionally, Qatar’s foreign ministry expressed reservations over the airstrikes. This prompted Tariq Adel, Egypt’s Arab League delegate, to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism. Egyptian citizens also launched an online campaign denouncing the Qatari government. The Gulf Cooperation Council rejected Egypt’s accusations and its secretary general regarded the statements to be false. Shortly after, Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt for “consultations”.
In 2014, Qatar had pledged $400 million to Hamas. The United States designates Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization.
In September 2014, Congress held a hearing about the role of Turkey and Qatar in terrorist financing. Top Democrats and Republicans at the hearing gave tough words to Qatar. Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) said:
“Relationships with some of these countries are complicated . . . Support for Hamas is not complicated, and our response to their support for Hamas should not be complicated either.”
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) said:
“We must make our message clear: If you help finance Hamas, there will be significant consequences and they will be unpleasant. I hope Qatar and Turkey are listening.”
In December 2013, Egypt designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. In February 2015, Egypt declared Hamas as a terrorist organization. At that time, Egypt became the fourth country in the world after Israel, the United States, and Canada, to do so. In response to Egypt’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, Hamas said through a spokesman, “The Egyptian court decision…is shocking, critical and targets the Palestinian people and Palestinian resistance forces.” Two years later, in June 2015, an Egyptian appeals court overturned the designation.
Qatar has continuously hosted Hamas politburo since 2012, when Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ political leader, fled Syria for the Gulf country. However, Meshal had already found harbor in Qatar in the late 1990s, before he moved to Damascus in 2001. Over the past decades, Qatar has also offered shelter to several prominent Hamas affiliates: from Saleh al-Arouri, the founder of Hamas’ military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, known for his ability to mastermind attacks from abroad who was reportedly hosted by Qatar after leaving Turkey in December 2015, to Husam Badran, the former leader of a Hamas cell and the current media spokesperson for Hamas who instigated several deadly suicide bombings during the Second Intifada and is based in Qatar since 2011. Along with Turkey, Qatar was the only country that endorsed Hamas for ousting the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in 2007. Shortly after, Qatar publicly pledged $250 in aid for Gaza, devastated after the Israeli war, and soon rose as a lead actor in the Palestinian conflict. The relation between the Gulf country and the terrorist group was reinforced especially between 2008 and 2009 after several expression of mutual support, and especially after Qatar condemned the Gaza blockade.
Former Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was the first head of state who visited Gaza after Hamas took power, in 2012. On that occasion, the Qatari ruler announced that Qatar would have devolved $400 million for aid and reconstruction works. So far, Qatar has disbursed over $1 billion to the rebuilding efforts, thereby ranking as the biggest donor for the Gaza strip.
However, attempts to smuggle dual-use substances that could be used to produce explosives into Gaza have been detected and reported more and more frequently over the past years, and have raised concerns that foreign aid directed to the Gaza strip may be used by Qatar to finance Hamas.
At the September 2014 congressional hearing, Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations testified. Cook offered an alternative theory about Qatar’s alleged lax enforcement against terrorism financing: self-interest. Cook argued that Qatar supports a wide variety of ideological groups in an effort to be independent from the influence of larger countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia.
In a September 2014 interview with CNN, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, said “We support all Palestinian people. We believe Hamas is a very important part of the Palestinian people.” The Emir told CNN, “We don’t fund extremists. If you talk about certain movements, especially in Syria and Iraq, we all consider them terrorist movement.”
After Cohen made his public remarks in October 2014, the Qatar ambassador to the United States, Mohammed al-Kuwari, acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal that Qatar has had problems with some of its citizens sending money to terrorist organizations. However, al-Kuwari said that the Qatari government was never involved.
In 2004, the Qatari government created a Financial Intelligence Unit. In 2010, it created an anti-terrorism committee.
To combat its reputation as a source of terrorism financing, Qatar passed a law that implements regulations against charities that have been accused of sending money to terrorist organizations.
2017 diplomatic crisis
On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilising the region and supporting terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia said it took the decision to cut diplomatic ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Islamic State and groups supported by Iran in the kingdom’s restive eastern province of Qatif where the vast majority of the population are Shia muslims.
On June 6th 2017, The US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done. Prior to the crisis, President Donald Trump had made a trip to Saudi Arabia and met with Middle East leaders. Trump later said the leaders had all pointed to Qatar as the main funder of extremism. Then on June 7th, 2017, Donald Trump offered to mediate in the crisis and made a call to Qatar offering help.
In June 2017, the government of Qatar hired American attorney and politician John Ashcroft to fight its corner in the international arena for services that includes lobbying and challenge accusations following the regional blockaded by its neighbors and singled out for supporting terrorism in recent days by U.S. President Donald Trump.