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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Qatar terror crackdown rings hollow after suspect on its list finishes second in Doha triathlon

Race organisers gave medal to Qatar-designated terrorist despite promises Doha was taking action against extremists

Mubarak Al Ajji, second left, had a podium finish in the national championship section of the triathlon on March 16.
Mubarak Al Ajji, second left, had a podium finish in the national championship section of the triathlon on March 16.

More than a week after a Kuwait meeting where Gulf states and the US were promised by Qatari officials that new names would be added to Doha’s terror list, one of the inclusions was limbering up for the annual Doha triathlon.

The list of 19 Qataris and others classified as terrorists included the name Mubarak Al Ajji. Designation was supposed to align Doha’s blacklist with the anti-terror measures of the US and the Arab Quartet boycotting it over promotion of extremism.

Those on the list appear to be moving freely in Qatar and, as in the case of Al Ajji, remain active in government-sponsored events or social media.

Al Ajji had a podium finish in the national championship section of the triathlon on March 16. His silver medal was prominently reported by Qatari media last week despite his presence on the full list of suspects plus eight organisations gazetted by officials.

The triathlon was sponsored by the Qatar Tourism Authority, Discover Qatar and Qatar Museums.

The prominent coverage of his race, and his 3,000 rials (Dh3,019) in winnings, has brought questions over the meaning of the Qatari announcement and its seriousness in working with foreign partners to tackle terror.

British Conservative politician Zac Goldsmith told The National that Al Ajji’s participation in the triathlon raised alarm bells.

“Qatar has actively funded extremism around the world, so it is good news that the government has finally released a list of designated terrorists,” Mr Goldsmith said. “It is a sign that international pressure is moving the issue up the agenda.

“But the integrity of the process is undermined when images surface showing people on the list being given awards and cheques at a government-sponsored sporting event. If he is considered to be a danger then why is he being publicly feted?”

Qatar’s Interior Ministry had linked the decision to update its list to commitments at the Kuwait meeting this month.

“The state of Qatar participated in the first meeting of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Centre in Kuwait, attended by all the GCC members and the US, which was positive, constructive and prevailed by the spirit of co-operation and consensus among GCC countries,” it said.

Al Ajji is identified by the US Treasury as an associate of Hajjaj Al Ajmi, a known financier of Jabhat Al Nusra. Both men were named in a report by the think tank Henry Jackson Society last year.

“Al Ajji was affirmed to be under Al Ajmi’s supervision in Qatar, where Al Ajji made no secret of his adoration of Osama bin Ladin and his hatred of Shiites while soliciting donations for armed insurgents like Ahrar Al Sham in Syria,” the report said.

There is no mention of Al Ajmi in the list.

Another member of the 11 Qataris on the list, Abdul Rahman Al Nuaimi, has been active on Facebook since the announcement.

Not far from Geneva’s InterContinental Hotel, operations have continued undisturbed at the offices of Al Karama, a rights group founded by Al Nuaimi.

This month Al Karama took part in a human rights conference at the UN Palace of Nations.

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But Al Nuaimi was designated by the US Treasury in December 2013 and by the UN in September 2014 for funnelling financial support to Al Qaeda. He is also the former head of the Qatar Football Association and founder of the country’s Eid Charity.

Former US officials told The National that Qatar had told Washington it took action against many of the people on the list almost a year ago.

Under pressure to demonstrate it is cracking down on the funding of terrorism, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani met with US President Donald Trump last year. Evan Vucci / AP
Under pressure to demonstrate it is cracking down on the funding of terrorism, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani met with US President Donald Trump last year. Evan Vucci / AP

Al Nuaimi was also included the Arab Quartet findings in June. Another prominent Al Qaeda backer on the list is Saad Al Kaabi, who is a known intermediary for ransoms demanded by Al Nusra.

Confusion over the status of all those listed cast doubts on how terror-related activities have stopped when the suspects remain at large.

Jonathan Schanzer, a senior vice president of the Foundation for Defence of Democracy, said many terror outfits remained untouched, including those groups listed.

Despite the apparently promising signals, Mr Schanzer said the Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim remained under pressure to take action.

“The key now is to see the Tamim government add names and entities while ejecting or jailing those inside Qatar,” he said. “It’s not clear yet what this list means in practical terms.

“What happens to those on the list once they are proscribed? Is this the beginning of a full push to remove terrorist elements from Qatar? What about the Taliban and Hamas figures based there?”

Six of the entities listed are trading companies, including a tents and parasol merchant, which are known to have commercial links to state-owned banks and commercial outfits.

Websites and telephone lines of the companies were still operational this week.

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