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Op-Ed: Not Much Progress on Qatar’s Record of Supporting Terrorism

By Ahmed Al Hamli and Richard Burchill

It is now one year on from the decision of four Middle East states to implement a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar in protest to a range of matters, foremost being Qatar’s continued support for terrorism and extremism.

The boycott brought to light Qatar’s failures to adhere to its international obligations concerning the funding and support of terrorism, and its absence of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Resolving these failures would require Qatar to do more than pay lip service to its international obligations and cooperation in the global framework for combatting terrorism. Twelve months, on has much changed?

Since the boycott, the U.S. government has made a number of announcements that allege Qatar is showing advances in cooperation for fighting terrorism, and there exists newly signed agreements between the U.S. and Qatar on dealing with terrorist matters. But these agreements remain confidential. Looking at a range of recent events involving Qatar, it does not appear Qatar is taking seriously its obligations for combatting terrorism.


Qatari residents walk through the shops and cafés in Doha. Last year, the United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, imposed a travel blockade on Qatar and severed diplomatic relations with the Gulf monarchy to force it to comply with a list of demands that involved alleged support for Islamic extremists throughout the region. The list also demanded the closure of Al Jazeera and scaling back ties to Iran. Critics of the blockade say the list is unreasonable, that Qatar has made progress in reducing terrorist funding and that the true intention of the blockade is to curb Qatar’s outsize influence on the world stage by bringing it more in line with Saudi regional policies. (Photo: Daniel Holm Hansen / Pixabay)

As a result of the current boycott, and through U.S. pressure, Qatar has produced a national list of designated terrorists. It is far from a complete list, but nonetheless a start. Yet it is far from an effective start, as just publishing a list of names is not what is required under U.N. Security Council sanctions, and a mere list does not signify cooperation with the U.S. or other states. Action needs to be taken to either freeze the assets of the designated individuals, or, where international treaties apply, to prosecute the individuals involved if they are in the territory. If prosecution is not possible, states are obligated to extradite those individuals to another state that is party to the relevant treaty for action to be taken.

Qatar, it seems, has chosen to take only limited action in relation to its support for, and cooperation with, the global framework against terrorism. In April 2018, the prime minister of Qatar attended the wedding of the son of Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaymi. Al Nuaymi, who is included on a range of terrorist designation lists, including being sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury, as an al-Qaeda financer, was present at the wedding celebrations. Al Nuaymi is supposedly on trial in Qatar for terrorist financing, but he is clearly operating freely in society and has connections with Qatari government officials.

An even more bizarre situation occurred in March 2018, when Mubarak Al Ajji, an individual on Qatar’s own list of designated terrorists, participated and came in second place at the Doha triathlon. He received a check and medal for his efforts in an event sponsored by the Qatar Tourism Authority, a government entity. Allowing designated terrorists to participate in public events is a clear indication on how seriously Qatar is taking global cooperation against terrorism.


Qatar has the highest per-capita income in the income, thanks to its abundant natural gas and oil reserves. As a result, it has thus far largely been able to financially weather the blockade imposed on it by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. (Photo: Yasser Dorgham / Pixabay)

Given Qatar’s extensive record of supporting the financing of terrorist groups around the world, such reticence to take any real action is not surprising. More and more evidence of Qatar’s involvement and direct financing of terrorist groups is emerging. A March 2018 New York Times article showed how Qatar reportedly paid over $360 million to secure the release of two dozen Qataris, including members of the ruling Al Thani family, who had been kidnapped during a hunting trip in southern Iraq. “In order to retrieve its hostages, Qatar was made to negotiate a tightly choreographed population exchange in Syria, using the rebel militias it finances to forcibly uproot every resident of four strategically located towns,” wrote Robert E. Worth. “The transfers advanced Tehran’s larger goal of transforming Syria — along with Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen — into satellite states that will enshrine a dominant Iranian role across the region.”

In relation to terrorist financing, the report also showed how large cash payments were made by Qatar to groups such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar Al Sham. The money transfers had to be facilitated by Hezbollah in Lebanon, which undoubtedly also received payment. The report claims that Iran’s Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRCG) Quds Force, another U.S.-designated terrorist group, was also involved. This was not the first time Qatar has come up with large ransom payments for terrorist organisations, but the involvement of Iranian-backed groups and the Iranian regime should be a major concern regarding Qatar’s future cooperation in combatting terrorism.


Qatar Airways is the state-owned flag carrier of Qatar. Since June 2017, the United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a historic land, maritime and air blockade on Qatar, resulting in a major schism within the Gulf Cooperation Council. (Photo: Emslichter / Pixabay)

The Iranian angle is an area where Qatar’s “permissive jurisdiction” on supressing terrorist funding may soon be exploited. The UAE and U.S. Treasury together recently disrupted a major Iranian-backed funding system for the Quds force. With the UAE tightening its financial systems, it appears Iran is seeking new locations for its financial needs. A number of Iranian banks are relocating to Doha and there are reports that Iran is going to relocate its hawala funding system to Doha.

With the U.S. imposing a range of sanctions on Iran preventing Iran from gaining access to the global financial system, it appears Qatar is on its way to supporting Iran in ways that will allow the IRGS and Quds Force to keep their finances going.

While it appears Qatar is taking some steps to meets its obligation to combat terrorism, these belated measures are, at best, just lip service and, at worst, covers for simultaneously increasing its public and private support for terrorist groups. Qatar cannot be commended for coming up with a domestic terrorist designation lists, as the U.N. Security Council has been requiring this for a number of years now. And the public displays of designated terrorists cannot be excused. Qatar needs to do much more in terms of cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and its growing financial relationship with Iran has to be questioned if the U.S. is serious about putting pressure on Iran.

 

 


Ahmed Al-Hamli is the president of TRENDS Research and Advisory, an independent think tank based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, that is privately funded and operated, and conducts studies and issues reports both locally and globally, and for the public and private sectors. Richard Burchill is the director of research and management at TRENDS Research & Advisory.

 
 

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