Qatar bank accused of allowing terror financing in Syria

Eight Syrian claimants say they were tortured by extremists in legal action filed against Doha Bank

DOHA, QATAR - February 19, 2009: A man uses the atm machine or bank machine at a Doha Bank branch in Doha, Qatar.

( Ryan Carter / The National )

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Funds transferred from accounts in the Qatari-state controlled Doha Bank were transferred to extremist groups perpetrating atrocities in Syria, a claim issued at the UK High Court has said.

The case has been brought by eight Syrians, now living in Europe, who say in the claim that they were tortured and displaced by Al Qaeda affiliate Jahbat Al Nusra, a key player in the Syrian civil war that was supplied with arms and resources by the gas rich gulf state.

They accuse Doha Bank, whose largest shareholder is the Qatar Investment Authority, the state’s sovereign wealth vehicle, of failing to stop the transfers of money to extremists by two wealthy brothers.

One analyst said it “put some meat on the bones” of claims that the Qatari establishment had funded militant groups in Syria.

The eight Syrians involved in the unprecedented legal action have been granted anonymity after lodging the claim in the UK High Court that seeks damages from Doha Bank.

The claimants say they were inflicted with "severe physical and psychiatric injuries" by the extremists, were forcibly displaced from their homes and had their businesses taken from them "as a result of the unlawful actions of the al-Nusra Front" according to documents seen by The Times.

Doha Bank becomes the latest Qatari outfit to be implicated in the financing of terrorists and extremist groups.

It’s chief representative in London, Richard Whiting, said: “The details contained in the recently received claim are limited and Doha Bank Limited is taking legal advice. However, it considers the allegations asserted against it are groundless and without merit.”

Earlier this week it emerged the British-registered, Qatari state-controlled Al Rayan bank provided banking services for at least 15 groups or bodies that had links to Islamist extremists or other controversies.

But last week, in a case brought at the Queen’s Bench division of the UK court, representatives for the eight Syrians said in their claim that two wealthy brothers, Moutaz and Ramez al-Khayyat, "financed and/or assisted in financing the Al Nusra Front, including through accounts held by them and/or entities associated with them at Doha Bank”.

It is said the money was sent to Turkey or Lebanon via Doha Bank and delivered to extremists in Syria. “As a result of the defendants’ actions the Al Nusra Front was able to cause loss and damage to the claimants,” the claim said.

Paul Stott, research fellow at the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society, said it “was always fanciful” that a conflict on the scale of the Syrian civil war would not see armed insurgents backed by external funding.

But he said recent revelations about Qatar “put some meat on the bones of the case, some have articulated but few have decisively evidenced,” that the state had backed extremists in Syria.

The UK's former ambassador to Syria, Sir John Jenkins wrote in The Times: "Islamism is not Islam. And funding of Islamism is not the pious fulfilment of a sacred duty. It is social and politically corrosive."

“Its leaders seem to believe that they can fend off danger by using Qatar’s location and cash to buy regional influence, attract western partners eager for military bases or inward investment, host the World Cup and back Islamist movements."