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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Qatar sponsors counter-terrorism event to hide role in supporting extremists

The expanded list of terror-linked individuals based in Qatar was not addressed in the sessions

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar, highlighted Rusi’s role in training Qatar diplomats. Mohamed Farag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar, highlighted Rusi’s role in training Qatar diplomats. Mohamed Farag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Underneath a ceiling mosaic painted by Peter Paul Rubens in Whitehall’s Banqueting House, Qatar sponsored a prestigious counter-terrorism conference in London on Thursday that served to whitewash the country’s role in supporting extremists.

Using a platform provided by the Qatar-linked think tank Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), the country’s foreign minister and national security adviser gave speeches to leading experts, including leading British and European security officials.

Some speakers hinted at discomfort with Qatar’s role in the event. “One element not mentioned is the consequences of state sponsorship of terrorism,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, EU’s Special Representative to Afghanistan. “This needs to be addressed a lot more and is a more general comment on what is happening here.

“We know which states we are talking about. I would like to skirt the question because I still want to be an ambassador tomorrow. I don’t have to sit here and point fingers.”

The expanded list of terror-linked individuals based in Qatar was not addressed in the sessions. Several speakers, including Shiraz Maher, deputy director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) at King’s College London identified the growing threat of Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), the leading Al Qaeda affiliate in northern Syria. Yet there was no mention that Qatar has provided support and funding for the group.

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Kyle Orton, a researcher at the Henry Jackson Society in London, has found evidence that Qatar provided tens of millions of dollars to HTS, including one large payment made earlier this year. “Qatar has provided operationally significant amounts money to HTS both through ransom payments or donor money directly facilitated by the state,” he said. “Qatar has also been involved in transfer of weapons to Ahrar Al Sham, which was a deniable channel to Jabhat Al Nusra and Hayat Al Tahrir.”

A former senior official in British security services criticised the attendance of leading figures including two junior ministers, diplomats, intelligence officials and Mark Rowley, the assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police. “They know how implicated Qatar is. They know how the Qatari’s relativise everything to serve their own purpose,” he told The National.

Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office's Middle East minister, stressed a collaborative approach on counter-terrorism across the Gulf. “Your security is our security,” he said. "Even as we see [ISIL] pushed back on the physical battlefield, we know that they will continue to pose a threat in the region. We also know that the battle of ideas is far from won, Daesh is still capable of inspiring people to carry out attacks in its name and, as such, it remains a serious global threat.”

Separate panels considered the different elements of counter-terrorism, examining the use of law-enforcement, military and intelligence assets to degrade the capability of terrorist organisations to conduct attacks.

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar, highlighted Rusi’s role in training Qatari diplomats and said the institute, which traces its roots to the 19th-century 1st Duke of Wellington, would prepare a “white paper” for the country on terrorism.

Delegates were also asked to support a declaration of counter-terrorism principles.

The foreign minister was not asked to field questions from the floor.