Qatar and the Funding of Terrorism: A Global Concern

June 8, 2017
Qatar and the Funding of Terrorism: A Global Concern
Richard Burchill
Richard Burchill Director of Research & Engagement at TRENDS Research & Advisory

A central pillar in the current diplomatic row between a number of Arab States and Qatar is the issue of Qatar’s direct support for terrorism.  Given the threat of terrorism in the Middle East and the wider world, taking action to target sources of funding should come as no surprise; especially when the government is a central actor.  In the case of Qatar, the evidence of direct support for terrorist groups, or allowing groups to use Doha as a fundraising venue, has been well documented by international organisations and in-depth studies.  Qatar has given lip service to its legal obligations and political pressure in the fight against terrorism but, for the most part, it has taken little substantive action against individuals and groups designated as international terrorists who freely operate in Qatar. The direct support for terrorists and extremist individuals and groups, and overlooking the actions of private individuals are clearly destabilising and a threat to international peace and security.

This is not an entirely new issue.  In 2014 the US Treasury Department Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, publicly spoke of the “permissive jurisdiction” Qatar provided, along with Kuwait, for terrorist funding and support activities.    In terms of private financing activity, Cohen said –

“Private fundraising networks in Qatar, for instance, increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations for terrorists and to communicate with both donors and recipient radicals on the battlefield. This method has become so lucrative, and Qatar has become such a permissive terrorist financing environment, that several major Qatar-based fundraisers act as local representatives for larger terrorist fundraising networks that are based in Kuwait.”

Cohen added that Qatar “has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability.” The US Treasury, the UN Sanctions Committee, INTERPOL, the EU, and other states have all designated a number of individuals, living and operating in Qatar, as funders of terrorist organisations.  Added to this, there is the open presence of leaders from Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as giving shelter and space for the Taliban to operate.  The presence of terrorists and extremists in Qatar is not clandestine, it is open and clearly part of the government’s foreign policy.  Qatar is now being called out for its behaviour.

The US Treasury Department’s views are consistent with the global regime for preventing terrorist support and funding as crated by the United Nations.  The United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee has designated a number of Qatari nationals, and others, living and operating in Qatar.  The Security Council Sanctions Committee operate through Security Council Resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) provide for the designation of groups as terrorist organisations and designates individuals as persons involved in the funding and support for Daesh and Al Qaeda. A designation under the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee creates measures that require Member States of the UN to take action against the groups and individuals listed.  This action includes freezing financial or economic assets attached to the designated individuals and groups “without delay” and preventing designated individuals from entering or transiting through the territory of a Member State.  These Security Council resolutions establishing the sanctions designation have been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter making the obligation to act a requirement upon all states.  This means that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani’s statement in 2014 that there are differences between states as to who may or may not be a terrorist is not relevant.  When it comes to the UN Sanctions Committee actions, Qatar cannot argue that it does not accept the designation of certain groups and individuals.

However, Qatar’s lack of action in relation to designated terrorist individuals and groups does demonstrate the permissive environment Qatar has been providing.  There are plenty of examples to demonstrate this.  There is Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Shariyan al-Ka’bi, a Qatari national openly living in Qatar, designated by the UN in 2015 as a known facilitator and fund raiser for the Nusra Front.  Al-Ka’bi’s activities in Qatar, including the arranging of funding and transferring funds are well known and documented, yet the government has done nothing to stop his actions.  There is also Abd al-Latif Bin ‘Abdallah Salih Muhammad al-Kawari, a known fund raiser for terrorist groups dating back to the early 2000s.  At that time al-Kawari was  associated with Ibrahim ‘Isa Haji Muhammad al-Bakr, himself a designated terrorist by the UN and US.  The two were working in Qatar to raise funds for Al-Qaeda organisations based in Pakistan and al-Kawari was directly connected to the transfer of funds from Qatar to Pakistan.  Al-Kawari has also been associated with fundraising and the transfer of funders to the Al Qaeda offshoot, the Nusra Front.  Both individuals have been designated by the UN Sanctions Committee and the US Treasury Department, as known international terrorists operating in Qatar and “responsible for supporting terrorists throughout the Middle East”.  As with all designated terrorists under the UN Sanctions regime, INTERPOL has issued notices to all its members about the individuals.  It would be hard to argue Qatar was not aware of the matter, and it remains a concern that no substantive action has been taken against these individuals.[1]

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a DC based think tank, has brought together extensive evidence on the support Qatar has provided to known terrorist groups and the permissive setting it provides for individuals and groups to fund raise in the country.[2]  The FDD reports are based on open sourced information and upon reviewing the reports, the question becomes more about why stronger action has not been taken against Qatar at an earlier stage?  The evidence provided in the reports is not supposition about who may or may not be funding terrorism, it provides extensive evidence of funding operations occurring in Qatar, the groups and individuals involved, and the absence of action from Qatar.

Qatar’s support for terrorism is not new.  A 2003 New York Times report cited US intelligence information regarding Qatar’s support and harbouring of Al Qaeda leadership; a matter that was said to “infuriate” the then CIA Director George Tenet.  A 2014 piece in Foreign Policy documented the growth of Doha as “an extremist hub” involving influential figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and the burgeoning “start up” industry of fund raising by Syrian based extremists and terrorists.  The government has been named as a source for direct funding to the Nusra Front in Syria, open support and accommodation for Al Qaeda, as well as for Hamas.  The funding operations for the Nusra Front, organised and permitted by the government have been described as ‘destabilizing nearly every trouble spot in the region and in accelerating the growth of radical and jihadi factions.’

Al Qaeda’s threat to international peace and security is well known with an entire sanctions regime and action plan to counter its activities.  The UN has made clear that Al Qaeda continues to pose a major threat to international peace and security, and that the disruption of funding for the group is essential to bringing an end to their activities.  The UN regime, as set out above, is based on Chapter VII of the Charter, requiring all states to take action against Al Qaeda and its personnel, and most states in the world have adhered to this. Whereas Qatar allows Al Qaeda to freely operate and raise funds, contrary to a range of UN Security Council Resolutions.

Hamas, as an organisation, is designated as a terrorist organisation by a number of states, including the USA (date of designation 1997), Canada (2002), the EU (2003), Japan (2005), Australia (2014).  The designation by these states provides for the freezing of assets attached to the organisation and a prohibition on citizens and companies of the state from associating with Hamas or its leadership. Yet Qatar allows for the Hamas leadership to freely operate and undertake political activities.

Qatar’s role in supporting terrorism and extremism also comes in its accommodation of Muslim Brotherhood leadership.   The Muslim Brotherhood is at the foundation of political Islam movements that are seeking to replace secular forms of government with governance based on Islamic law only.  Brotherhood members and leaders have been in Qatar since the 1980s, and in particular the Egyptian cleric Yusuf al Qaradawi has long lived in Qatar.  Al Qaradawi is seen as the intellectual leader of the Brotherhood movement and Qatar has given him, and other Brotherhood figures a significant presence on the state funded media company Al Jazeera.   Al Qaradawi, who is also the Director of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, has openly supported suicide bombers in Palestine and declared in 2003 that Islam will return to Europe as a victorious conqueror after having been expelled twice. This time it will not be conquest by the sword, but by preaching and spreading [Islamic] ideologyThe future belongs to Islam…The spread of Islam until it conquers the entire world and includes the both East and West marks the beginning of the return of the Islamic Caliphate….”  Such ideology is known to fuel violent terrorist organisations, but little to no action is being taken. The FDD reports make clear “it is impossible to identify even a single specific instance of Qatar charging, convicting, and jailing a U.S.- or UN-designated individual.”[3]

Little action has been taken against Qatar’s support for international terrorism.  The USA has long been turning a blind eye to Qatar’s support for terrorists the US is battling.  This is, of course, due to the large military presence the USA has in Qatar, but former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates recently commented during a conference on the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, that no single military facility is irreplaceable and Qatar’s support for terrorists the US is fighting against should not be tolerated.  And, at the same event, Representative Ed Royce, the Chair of the House of Representative Foreign Affairs Committee spoke of draft legislation on the financing of terrorism in support of Hamas that would directly impact Qatar’s practices and policies.  It remains to be seen if the US can play a role in addressing Qatar’s support of terrorism. This is in spite of the extensive evidence of these individuals operating in the country.

The GCC states have attempted to persuade Qatar to end its support for various extremist groups.  In 2002 Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Qatar and in 2014 three GCC states withdrew ambassadors in response to Qatar’s continued support for extremists.  This led to the 2014 Riyadh Agreement where all GCC members declared a commitment to, amongst other things, preventing the support of terrorist and extremists.  Qatar’s failure to adhere to the 2014 agreement has led to the current measures being taken by a range of Arab states.  Qatar has been sidestepping its responsibility to act against the spread of terrorism.  Given the weight of the evidence showing Qatar’s support for terrorist groups and its permissive approach to terrorist funding, states and international organisations need to bring about better, and more effective, means of cooperation to make clear such behaviour is not acceptable.

[1] Weinberg, Qatar and Terror Finance. Part 2: Private Funders of al-Qaeda in Syria, p. 29.

[2] David Andrew Weinberg, Qatar and Terror Finance. Part 1: Negligence (Washington DC: FDD Press, 2014) available here; David Andrew Weinberg, Qatar and Terror Finance. Part 2: Private Funders of al-Qaeda in Syria (Washington DC: FDD Press, 2017) available here

[3] Weinberg, Qatar and Terror Finance. Part 2: Private Funders of al-Qaeda in Syria, p. 7.