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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Terror designation lists highlight Qatar’s failure to tackle extremist funding

Among the GCC states, Qatar has made the least progress in choking off financing for terrorist groups, according to former US officials and experts in Washington.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman sign a memorandum of understanding in Doha on countering terror financing. Alexander W. Riedel/US State Department
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman sign a memorandum of understanding in Doha on countering terror financing. Alexander W. Riedel/US State Department

An agreement signed by the US and Qatar to combat terrorism financing is another testament to the centrality of the issue in the current dispute between Doha and four of its Arab neighbours.

The memorandum signed on Tuesday came a month after the quartet boycotting Doha published a list of 59 individuals and 12 entities in or related to Qatar that support terror groups. The agreement signed with the US highlights a festering problem with the Gulf state in the area of financing terrorism.

Among the GCC states, Qatar has made the least progress in choking off financing for terrorist groups, according to former US officials and experts in Washington. In 2014, Qatar was accused by the US treasury department of having “permissive jurisdictions” that allow “soliciting donations to fund extremist insurgents,” David Cohen, the then Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said. “The recipients of these funds are often terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al Nusra Front, and ISIL,” Mr Cohen added.

Three years on, the US treasury department has not upgraded Qatar from the “permissive jurisdiction” status. Mr Cohen, who is no longer working for the government, sees no reason to change that classification. At an event hosted by the Gulf States Institute in Washington last week, Mr Cohen was asked if Qatar is worse than others in the GCC when it comes to terror financing.

The former US official said: “Qatar is not much worse than Kuwait, but worse than others in the GCC.” Mr Cohen went a step further in accusing Qatar of “knowing very well” who is doing the funding but not going to the full extent in curbing it.

Mr Cohen made reference to previous American and Saudi attempts to curb Qatar’s links with extremists. He recalled efforts that the US took during his six years at the US treasury between 2009 and 2015 to pressure Qatar. “We tried to work Saudis in trilateral fashion... to put pressure on those in Qatar, it didn't work out” Mr Cohen said.

Donald Trump took a shot across the bow of Qatar on June 9 calling it a “funder of terrorism at a very high level”. A US state department official told The National that “more needs to be done by Doha” to tackle this issue. However, the official also noted that the problem was more complex, including the need to “recognise the efforts Qatar has made to try and stop the financing of terrorist groups”.

Without singling out Doha, the US official outlined measures that Qatar and others in the Gulf region can take. They include additional counterterrorism laws, enhanced financial controls on funding to charities, monitoring and regulating the charitable sector and compiling and releasing official financial intelligence reports.

Over the last 15 years, terror financiers in Doha or those linked to the country, have been placed on the terror sanctions lists of the US treasury, state department and the UN.

The individuals on the lists are mostly those involved in facilitating funding to extremist groups across the region, especially Al Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Al Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fatah Al Sham.

Those lists overlap with the one issued by the four Arab states at the outset of the Qatar crisis. Eleven names on the US lists are included on the list from the Arab quartet, and six with the UN lists.

Those names are:

1 Khalifa Muhammad Turki Al Subaiy. Qatari terrorist financier and facilitator accused of supporting senior leadership of Al Qaeda.

What the UN says | What the US treasury says

2 Abd Al Malik Muhammad Yusif Abd Al Salam. Provided financial and material support to Al Qaeda in Syria and Pakistan

What the UN says | What the US treasury says

3 Ashraf Muhammad Yusuf ‘Uthamn ‘Abd Al Salam. Al Qaeda militant based in Syria.

What the UN says | What the US treasury say

4 Ibrahim Isa Hajji Muhammad Al Bakr. A Qatari providing financial support to Al Qaeda

What the UN says | What the US treasury says

5 Abd Al Latif bin Abdullah Al Kawari. Qatar-based Al Qaeda financier.

What the UN says | What the US treasury says

6 Abd Al Rahman bin Umayr Al Nuaimi. Qatar-based financier of Al Qaeda in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

What the UN says | What the US treasury says

7 Saad bin Saad Mohammed Al Kaabi. Qatar-based fundraiser for Jabhat Al Nusra in Syria

What the US treasury says

8 Salim Hassan Khalifa Rashid Al Kuwari. Provides financial and logistical support to Al Qaeda.

What the US treasury says

9 Abdul Wahab Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al Hmeikani. Fundraiser for Al Qaeda in Yemen.

What the US treasury says

10 Murtada Majeed Al Sindi. Responsible for attacks in Bahrain

What the US state dempartment says

11 Hajjaj bin Fahad Hajjaj Mohammed Al Ajmi. Funnelled money to Jabhat Al Nusra

What the US treasury says

Of the names that do not overlap, many are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the four Arab States.

Experts point to a host of issues impeding progress on understanding Qatar's enduring terror financing problem. Katherine Bauer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former treasury official who served as the department's financial attaché in Jerusalem and the Gulf, said: “It is unclear what Qatar has done and it seems to lend itself to questioning if they have done anything."

“We know from US reports they have done things” to crack down on fundraising “but it is an incomplete picture,” she added.

However, Ms Bauer, who follows the designations on a case by case basis, said Qatar, “needs to act on UN designated individuals, that continue to operate in Qatar, with some that are prosecuted.”

The expert mentioned the case of Khalifa Al Subaiy, a Qatari on the UN, US and the quartet’s list, accused of funding Al Qaeda. Subaiy was convicted by Bahrain, served six months in prison and was released, said Ms Bauer. He has since re-engaged in terror support according to the UN.

She has also highlighted other examples that show Doha’s reluctance when it comes to cracking down on those on the lists.

In 2014, the state department credited Qatar with shutting down Madad Ahl Al Sham, the online fundraising platform run by Saad Al Kaabi, a Qatari financier of Al Qaeda in Syria.

At least a year later a subsequent treasury sanctions designation noted Al Kaabi was still actively involved in financing the group, Ms Bauer said.

Ms Bauer said another issue where Qatar has stumbled has been the prosecution of terrorism financiers in Qatari courts. Many of the names were acquitted, tried in absentia, or released to be reportedly under surveillance.

“The nature of that surveillance is a matter of debate, however,” Ms Bauer co-wrote in a recent paper on Qatar. “In the case of Subaiy, the UN committee on Al Qaeda sanctions reported that he resumed terrorist financing activities after his release from prison, when he was purportedly under surveillance.”

David Weinberg, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the designations are evidence, “that the Qatari line is wrong.”

“The Qatari foreign minister keeps insisting that the allegations are totally baseless but the list [from the quartet] and particularly its overlap with the names on the UN and US lists- tells us there is at least something there.”

Asked about other GCC states accused of privately funding terror, Mr Weinberg said “while terrorist financing still flows from some private individuals in Saudi or through Kuwait, Riyadh has taken strides in convicting hundreds of these financiers, while Qatar hasn’t.”

Qatar's problems are defined by “providing impunity for terror financiers, becoming a safe haven for internationally banned terrorist groups, and allegedly paying multi-million dollar ransoms to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda,” he said.

Qatar taking new measures to enact a more robust counterterror approach or put together its own designations, could be a potential opportunity from this dispute, Ms Bauer said.

More on the Qatar crisis:

> Latest news - UAE wants resolution, not alleviation of Qatar problem

> UAE: Al Jazeera has gone beyond incitement to hostility and violence

> Revealed: the secret pledges Qatar made — and then broke

> Editorial: Al Jazeera charts an irresponsible course