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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Stop funding pro-Iranian militias, US warns Qatar

Leaked emails reveal Doha’s links to terror groups

Leaked emails allege senior figures in Qatar’s government are on close terms with people such as Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah. Bilal Hussein / AP
Leaked emails allege senior figures in Qatar’s government are on close terms with people such as Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah. Bilal Hussein / AP

The United States is urging Qatar to stop funding pro-Iranian militias after fresh disclosures about the Gulf state’s links to terror organisations.

It comes after The Sunday Telegraph saw a series of emails that were reportedly sent from senior Qatari officials to key members of groups such as Hezbollah, as well as to commanders in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The emails show that senior figures in Qatar’s government are on close terms with influential members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards such as Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, and the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.

The transcripts of the emails, which were previously undisclosed, show that Doha paid hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom money in exchange for hostages being held by Shia militias in southern Iraq. According to one report, the sum paid was as high as US$1 billion (Dh3.67 billion).

US security officials reacted to the revelations with concern, as many Iranian-sponsored militias are viewed as terrorist organisations by Washington.

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The payments also fly in the face of America’s longstanding policy not to make ransom payments to terrorist groups.

A senior US security official, cited by The Sunday Telegraph, said: “What these emails show is that a number of senior Qatari government officials have developed cordial relations with senior figures in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as well as a number of Iranian-sponsored terrorist organisations.”

The official added: “At a time when the US government is trying to persuade Iran to end its support for terror groups in the Middle East, we do not believe it is helpful that Qatar continues to have ties with such organisations.”

Last week, US President Donald Trump decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and renew economic sanctions on the country, fulfilling a campaign pledge. The Trump administration is now urging Qatar to rethink its relationship with Iran, as well as with Iran-backed terrorist groups, in the wake of that decision.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the Qataris claim they engaged in communications with Tehran and with a number of Iranian-sponsored militias in order to secure the freedom of several members of Qatar’s royal family who were kidnapped while out hunting in southern Iraq.

Around £50 million (Dh248 million) was reportedly paid to Mr Soleimani in April 2017, a senior Qatari official said in one of the emails. A further £25 million was paid to an Iraqi Shia terror group that is said to have killed large numbers of US troops in southern Iraq.