Qatar Faces Accusations of Terrorist Funding

A Recent Lawsuit Against Qatari Charities Sheds New Light

The summer of 2017 was a tumultuous time in the Middle East as it saw the beginning of the on-going diplomatic boycott on Qatar. On June 5 of that year, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan decided to sever its diplomatic ties with Qatar over its government’s funding of terrorist activities throughout the region. Although this is not the first time diplomatic boycotts have happened in the region, the reason why this particular severing of ties is significant is mainly due to the fact that this marks the first time that states making up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have clashed in such a manner. The GCC is a political and economic union consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It was formed in1981 to counter the then newly founded Islamic Republic of Iran, which aimed to “spread the Islamic revolution” across the Middle East. Throughout most of its history, the GCC has shown to be an effective entity in the region as it facilitated cooperation in the Arabian Gulf on a micro-level, as well as dialogue and concord in the wider region. While Qatar has for the most part been cooperative member in the alliance, over the past decade it has displayed policies that have come in contention with the GCC’s principals. The first concrete signs of discord between Qatar and the rest of the GCC at the beginning of the 2010s decade, when Qatar allied with various violent Islamist groups which rose to prominence following the Arab Spring. Over the years Qatar has also grown closer to Iran and Turkey both of which have governments that seek to establish hegemonic influence over the region and will threaten to infiltrate the security and sovereignty of Middle Eastern states in order to fulfil said goals. While many believe Qatar’s support for Islamist and terrorist groups to be a new phenomenon, in reality government of Qatar’s ties have spanned years and go as far back to the 2000s. QATAR’S PASSIVE COOPERATION The post-9/11 political order saw a massive shift in the dynamic of the US’s relations with the Middle East. While many feared that the US and its regional allies would become more confrontational, however the reality was far from the truth. Most US allies in the region set up a close intelligence and information-sharing cooperative with Washington. An example of this cooperation was the US Treasury Department’s establishment of the Illicit Finance Task Force (IFTF). This new task force was made to cooperate with intelligence and finance institutions of several countries in the Middle East and South Asia in order to thwart illicit funding to terrorist groups located in Pakistan and Afghanistan. States that cooperated within the IFTF included Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Pakistan. In a leaked 2009 cable the then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton discussed the efforts of the IFTF member states to disrupt financing towards terrorist groups, while she was largely appreciative of most member states she did not have similar sentiments towards Qatar. The cable stated that the US embassy in Doha was already dealing with the Qatari government’s illicit financing of Hamas, and as such it could not shift its focus towards its financing of other terrorist groups in South Asia. This shows that Qatar has had a long history of funding multiple violent groups across the region and that the Obama administration was well aware of that fact, but still chose to keep its criticism quiet. The leaked cable also stated that the Qatari government has been passive in its cooperation with the US’s efforts against terrorist financing, and that it’s overall level of counterterrorism cooperation with the US is the worst in the region. Moreover, groups like Al-Qaida and the Taliban have used Qatar as a fundraising hub. Clinton did note that Doha had the capabilities to deal with such terrorist groups, however it did not posses the political will to do so because it did not want to appear aligned with the United States. In spite of the Obama administration’s knowledge of Qatar’s compliance with terror groups, it has done next to nothing to sanction the government and instead opted for a privately written slap on the wrist. ARAB SPRING: A TURNING THAT DISPLAYED QATAR’S COLOURS In December 2010, mass protests swept across the Middle East causing long time leaders such as Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak to resign from their posts. The leadership vacancies left in many states were soon occupied with Islamist elements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928, with the goal of establishing a modern pan-Islamist Caliphate across the world. One of the group’s principals is to provide poor communities with charities in order to gain public support and popularity, as such it can then utilise said popularity to garner political power. While the Brotherhood does approve of democratic means to obtain power, its ultimate goal and vision is largely undemocratic and oppressive. Furthermore, the group does not stray away from violence; one of the most influential members of the group was Sayyed Qutb who effectively wrote the manifesto used by most modern jihadist groups today. Qutb’s writings justified violence against Muslims and Muslims who do not condone the Brotherhood, in order to untimely reach the goal of implementing Sharia law. Qatar, along with Turkey, was one of the main supporters and allies of the former Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. According to the Counter Extremism Project, during the Brotherhood’s year in power, Qatar provided it with 7.5 billion dollars in aid. The Qatari government even remained an ally to the Brotherhood even after the latter had announced new extra-constitutional powers that were aimed at giving it more political power at the expense of other political opposition in Egypt. Following popular protests in 2013, the Brotherhood regime was ousted. This resulted in on-going series of terror attacks across Egypt. The group’s attacks include bombing and burning churches, killing police and security forces and attacking tourist busses. The most recent attack that was carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood happened in August 2019, when a terrorist rammed an explosives filled vehicle into a cancer hospital in Cairo. Hasm, a militant group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, carried out the attack. Since 2013, the group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia. Furthermore, last year the US’s President Trump announced that his administration was considering adding the Muslim Brotherhood to the country’s list of terrorist groups. It should be noted that Hasm, the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militant group, was added to the US’s list in 2018. In spite of this, Qatar has refused to add the Muslim Brotherhood to its list of terrorist group’s and has gone as far as to offer asylum to its leaders and members. Furthermore, the group’s spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi is based in Qatar and he presents a programme on Qatar’s Al Jazeera news channel. While the group isn’t banned in Europe, al-Qaradawi has been barred from entering the UK and France. QATAR, THE GAZA STRIP AND THE LAWSUIT Qatar is one of Hamas’s largest financers in the region. Founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1988, Hamas has since then conducted countless attacks on Israel and across the Middle East. The attacks have intensified ever since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. Qatar, along with Iran, has been one of the group’s main funders of the group. During an August 2007 visit to Israel the then US Under Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Levy met with Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss developments in the region, particularly Iran’s growing influence. During the visit Levy met with the former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad who warned him that Qatar was “wilfully bad on money” as it continues to financially support Hamas and other Islamist groups in the West Bank and Gaza. He also stated that Qatar was using its charitable organisations to move funds to Gaza. While there have been efforts to block funding to Hamas, such as Israel and Egypt’s blockade on the strip, Qatar has still managed to transfer millions to the group. For example, in 2012 Doha gave the Hamas controlled Gaza 400 million dollars in aid in order to “modernise” the territory. However, little evidence shows that the Hamas regime has to put the funds towards economic development since the strip’s economy has been on a downward spiral and is currently on the verge of collapsing. Furthermore, the group has been vastly increasing its weapons arsenal in spite of the blockade, which shows that the group’s priority has been development its terrorism apparatus rather than civil modernisation and economic development. While Qatar’s funding of Islamist groups in Gaza has largely gone unpunished, recent developments might result into further investigations on Doha. In June 10 of this year, a lawsuit has been filed in New York against many Qatari charities and financial institutions. The lawsuit claims that Qatari groups, particularly Qatar Charity (formerly the Qatari Charitable Society), have been providing Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with millions of dollars over the years. Many American and Israeli soldiers were killed in attacks conducted by both these groups, and it is the families of said victims who have brought the case to court. The lawsuit alleges that Qatar Charity worked with the Masraf Al Rayan Bank and the Qatar National Bank to transfer funds to Hamas and PIJ. It should also be noted that Masraf Al Rayan is currently under investigation in the UK for allegedly sending money to both Islamist groups. The lawsuit further claims that charitable money funnelled through New York based banks are then transferred to Qatar Charity’s bank accounts at the Bank of Palestine and the Islamic Bank of Ramallah. This money is then given out to associates of Hamas and PIJ. Allegedly, between March and September 2015, at least 28 million dollars have been transferred from Qatar Charity to Islamist groups in Gaza and the West Bank, and the lawsuit also claims that these funds have directly gone towards six terror attacks between 2014 and 2016. It is still too early to tell if this lawsuit will result in any punitive measures or sanctions towards the Qatari government. Moreover, as governments are still trying to recover economic losses caused from the coronavirus, then a thorough investigation into illicit Qatari funding might not be in the works in the near future. Nevertheless, this is an interesting development that might force Qatar to restructure its current foreign policy.