Qatar's financial and intelligence links to global terror groups and Islamist extremists remain deep and continuing, according to a landmark report by the British think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS).
In a new publication it recommends a four-point plan of action for the British government to increase pressure on Qatar on the issues like terror finance where the Quartet’s grievances dovetail with western interests.
While Qatar maintains it backs the global fight on terror, the HJS report found hundreds of links between the state and sanctioned individuals as well as blacklisted groups.
At least one figure on the US Treasury’s list of terrorist financiers has had his Qatari passport renewed this summer despite Doha’s claims that the individual's movements have been restricted.
It estimates that tens of millions of dollars was paid by Qatar to the Syrian Al Qaeda linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as part of April’s hostage deal to release a group of hunters held in Iraq.
Doha continues to enjoy close links to Abdulhakim Bel Haj and other Libya Islamist militia leaders through Ali Al Salabi, who is Doha-based but is a spiritual leader to Libya Islamists. Factions close to Salabi and Bel Haj are currently believe to be preventing the extradition of Hashem Abedi, the brother of the Manchester suicide bomber.
Ongoing funding to a variety of media outlets that provide a propaganda platform for violent extremists and sectarian interest. Most notably Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel has continued to employ notorious figures allegedly associated with incitement.
Neutralising designated terrorists. “Whether this involves arresting or expelling the individual will be handled case-by-case,” the report said. “A minimum interim step would be preventing such people appearing on state media.”
Closing down terror finance. “This would include enforcing the laws on the books, ensuring that any legal loopholes are closed, and preventing the use of Qatari institutions
Curbing hate speech and incitement in the media. “Al-Jazeera has to be considered as part of Qatar’s foreign policy, which makes it a matter than can be raised with the government,” it added.
Continued pressure for improvements in human rights. “The notable issues are the status of women and the treatment of migrant workers,” according to the report.
Among other findings:
Hostage deal: “The Qataris had secured a sectarian population transfer and the transfer of tens of millions of dollars, at a minimum, to Sunni and Shi’a extremists. The deal had demonstrated the power of Iran across the Levant and the impotence not only of Asad, but of the Iraqi government, which had a deal made over its head by Iran about foreign nationals who had been kidnapped by Tehran’s proxies in Iraq while in possession of official Iraqi permits.237 And in Syria it had provided results, i.e. political legitimacy, and resources to HTS at a time when the mainstream rebellion was struggling for support and survival.
Ali al-Salabi, an Islamist cleric based in Qatar, who spent considerable time in Qaddafi’s prisons: “Al-Salabi is close to the Qatari ruling House, an important member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, and a spiritual authority for Libya’s Islamists more broadly. Al-Salabi is an ally of Belhaj’s, though al-Salabi’s exact relationship with Hizb al-Watan is unclear, and a close associate of Yusuf al-Qaradawi.202 Al-Salabi also had a practical role in supporting Islamists on behalf of Qatar via his brother, Ismail al-Salabi, a militia commander previously with Belhaj’s February 17 Brigades and now with BDB.”
Abdurrahman Al Nuaymi, an individual sanctioned for terror financing by the US Treasury in December 2013: “Al Nuaymi acted as a supporter of the Iraqi insurgency in general, and specifically al-Nuaymi had “facilitated significant financial support to [IS’s predecessor] al-Qaeda in Iraq, and served as an interlocutor between al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders and Qatar-based donors”, Treasury noted. In 2012, al-Nuaymi sent funds to Mukhtar Robow and Shaykh Hassan Aweys Ali, both then-sanctioned operatives of al-Qaeda’s Somali branch, al-Shabab, and in the same year sent money to Abdulwahhab al-Humayqani, who runs a charity in Yemen that finances AQAP. In 2013, al-Nuaymi “ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al-Qaeda” via “al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria”, Muhammad al-Bahaya (Abu-Khalid al-Suri), and “intended to transfer nearly $50,000 more”. Al-Bahaya was the then-deputy of Ahrar al-Sham, who had been appointed as al-Qaeda’s representative in the Levant.”
Links to Al Qaeda factions in Syria: “Members of al-Nusra have said senior al-Nusra officials met directly, in Turkey and in Doha, with Qatari intelligence chiefs.158 Additionally, there is the strange case of Abdulaziz bin Khalifa al-Attiyah – a former member of Qatar’s state Olympics Committee and a cousin of a former Qatari prime minister who oversees the anti-terror finance system – who is accused of, among other things, having delivered $20,000 in person to Abdulmalik Muhammad Yusuf Uthman Abd al-Salam (Umar al-Qatari) in Lebanon.”
Failures by Qatar to arrest, prosecute, ban from travelling or freeze assets of designated individuals: “In the summer of 2017, the US State Department noted that while there has been “progress on countering the financing of terrorism, … terrorist financiers within the country are still able to exploit Qatar’s informal financial system”. And, though it is difficult to ascertain the fate of people like Salim al-Kuwari and Abdallah al-Khawar – who are presumed to be free – there is clear evidence indicating that Abdurrahman al-Nuaymi and Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy, two of the most dangerous sanctioned terrorists in Qatar, are still on the loose. Al Subaiy’s passport was renewed by Qatar in 2017.”
Yusuf Al Qaradawi: Once a friend of Western politicians like British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Al Qaradawi expanded his fatwa on suicide bombing for Palestinians and Syrians as late as 2014. It was an instrumental and a subsequent walk-back of the edict could not repair the damage.
“Al-Qaradawi refused to disavow suicide bombing in general and did not mention Syria at all. And, more importantly, Al-Qaradawi had breached a traditional barrier that could not now be repaired. Suicide bombing has been normalised in a way it could not have been without the support of someone with Al-Qaradawi’s stature.
Tarek al-Zumar: “The Egyptian, is secretary-general of al-Hizb al-Banna wal-Tanmiya (The Construction and Development Party), the political wing of al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, a US-registered terrorist organisation.46 Al-Zumar fled Egypt after the violent military coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, and took shelter in Qatar. Al-Zumar has appeared on Al-Jazeera.”
Media: “Qatar allegedly supports, directly or indirectly, including: Arabi21, Rassd News Network (RNN), Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab), and Middle East Eye (MEE).” The Quartet has also demanded the closure of Al Jazeera.
“Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), gave his first public interview to Ahmed Mansour in 2015, which was broadcast by Al-Jazeera.100 Al-Shara was not seriously challenged, though he did nonetheless give some interesting details about his organisation. Al-Shara, for instance, spoke of al-Nusra’s ideological kinship with Sayyid Qutb, the most important Muslim Brotherhood ideologue after its founder, Hassan al-Banna.
“Mansour appeared eager to present a positive image of al-Nusra,104 and, long before al-Nusra claimed to have disaffiliated from al-Qaeda, Al-Jazeera’s staff were instructed to cease referring to al-Nusra as “al-Qaeda” or even “al-Qaeda affiliated”. The US government has previously assessed that certain members of Al-Jazeera are members of al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups. The very first interview with al-Shara, in late 2013, was conducted by Tayseer Allouni, who has been convicted and imprisoned in Spain for facilitating financial support to al-Qaeda”
“Faysal al-Qassem, the host of Al-Itija al-Muakis (The Opposite Direction), himself a Druze, who has engaged in the most lurid sectarian incitement. In November 2014, Hussein Muhammad Hussein, an Islamic scholar, pledged allegiance to [Isil] live on al-Qassem’s program. In May 2015, al-Qassem organised an opinion poll asking whether Alawis, the sect from which Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Asad hails, had “brought genocide upon themselves”, and then turned to his guests and suggested that this was a “weak question”: The question should rather, al-Qassem said, about “wip[ing] out these Alawites in their entirety, including their children.”
“RNN hardly hides its Qatar links and is openly run by sympathizers if not members of the Muslim Brotherhood. RNN has been responsible for releasing stories that embarrass the Quartet, perhaps most saliently the recordings showing that the street demonstrations that precipitated the coup in Cairo in 2013 were not a spontaneous, revolutionary, outpouring but part of an orchestrated campaign.”
“MEE has an editorial line favourable to the Qatari government and the Muslim Brotherhood, while flatly denying any links to Qatar at all. Somewhere in between is The New Arab, which has public links in its funding to the state, even as it claims total independence of operations. As with MEE, the pro-Doha coverage, real or perceived, at The New Arab is, for the West, not as troubling as these outlets providing a platform for anti-Western conspiracy theories and propaganda, such as that IS was created by the West to justify military intervention in the Muslim world.”