Qatar faces legal action from 330 people who accuse it of funding terrorism

Counter-terrorism police investigate claims Qatar used bribery and harassment to stall initial court case

Signage is seen on the side of the Royal Courts of Justice where the High Court is located in London on November 2, 2020.  Hollywood star Johnny Depp on November 2 lost a libel lawsuit against British newspaper The Sun for branding him a "wife-beater" in a case at the British High Court that laid bare his chaotic lifestyle and shattered his global reputation. / AFP / Ben STANSALL
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Qatar is facing new legal action from 330 Syrian refugees who accuse the country of funding the Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group that tortured them.

The claimants, many of whom now live in the UK, took their case to London’s High Court and are awaiting the outcome of a similar hearing involving eight refugees.

They are seeking damages against the state-run Doha Bank and two wealthy Qatari businessmen, brothers Moutaz and Ramez Al Khayyat.

The claimants say they suffered “severe physical and psychiatric injuries” at the hands of terrorist group Al Nusra Front, and claim the brothers used accounts at Doha Bank to channel funds to Al Nusra during the Syrian civil war.

“There is a pending application before the court to add 330 additional claimants, who are resident in various parts of Europe, including a substantial number resident in the UK,” the court papers show.

“The claimants and potential claimants are victims of terrorism perpetrated by Al Nusra Front in Syria and have been victims of a range of grave human rights violations, including torture, summary and arbitrary execution and other violations of the right to life.

“They allege that the three defendants together operated a clandestine route for the funding of Al Nusra on behalf of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Al Thani and the state of Qatar.

"It is their case that the state of Qatar and all three defendants operated a system to channel funds secretly to Al Nusra in Syria.

"The operation of this funding system was, in itself, an act of terrorism, since it amounted to the preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.”

The hearing for the first group of claimants was halted this week after the UK's counter-terrorism unit launched an investigation into claims that Qatar has bribed, harassed, threatened and planted illegal tracking devices on the cars of witnesses.

Four of the eight claimants withdrew their allegations after they said they had been threatened.

The court heard all the claimants were in “fear for their lives” despite strict secrecy orders to protect their identities.

Jason McCue, of legal firm McCue and Partners, told The National  he was confident that the British court would ensure the hundreds of claimants who came forward would receive a fair trial.

“British justice retains its eminence in prosecuting international crime and will help the four remaining claimants receive a transparently fair trial,” Mr McCue said.

“Over three hundred victims of Al Nusra terror and violence are now expected to seek justice as further claimants, as the network of survivors see our justice system working transparently on behalf of victims of international crime.”

The next hearing in the case will be in 2021.

Doha Bank’s chairman and several directors are members of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family.

Its legal team described the claims as “wild accusations”.

A spokesman for the Khayyat brothers told The National  that the pair denied all "bizarre and baseless allegations".