February 24, 2015 | Politico
Qatar Needs Tough Love
In his closing remarks at the White House summit on countering violent extremism this past week, President Barack Obama explained that “by ‘violent extremism’ we don’t just mean terrorists who are killing innocent people.” Rather, “we also mean the ideologies” and “the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.”
What better opportunity to push back against this urgent threat than when the president hosts Qatar’s Emir Tamim at the White House on Tuesday?
Qatar is a major source of hateful religious incitement, promoting the same sorts of extremist ideologies that underpin the violent acts of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. For example, one Friday sermon this past month at Qatar’s state-controlled Grand Mosque called on Allah to “destroy the Jews… destroy the Christians and Alawites… and the Shi’a.” The preacher, Sa’ad Ateeq al Ateeq, went on to urge Allah to save al-Aqsa from “the claws of the Jews.”
The sermon was promoted by Qatar’s religious affairs ministry on Twitter and on its website. The sermon was broadcast live on Qatari TV, and it was at least the sixth time that the Saudi preacher had been invited to speak at Qatar’s Grand Mosque since delivering a similar hateful message there in 2013.
Much attention has been given to the fact that Qatar is a member of the military coalition against ISIL, although its physical airpower contribution to the effort is minimal. Yet until recently a website on how best to practice Islam run by the Qatari government advanced a fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) justifying killing or torture by fire that may have served as the basis for a similar ruling by the Islamic State.
The Qatari fatwa in question was authorized in 2006 by the director of the Qatari government’s Fatwa Center at the time but seems to have been taken down after IS made similar textual arguments for its gruesome execution of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh by burning him to death.
This episode is particularly striking given that President Obama called at the recent White House summit for allied governments to “do more to help lift up voices of tolerance and peace, especially online.” He also declared that “at minimum, as a basic first step, countries have a responsibility to cut off funding that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds and endangers us all.”
Yet Qatar has refused to seriously crack down on terror finance in its midst. Although the United States maintains sanctions on a number of Qatar-based individuals on charges of financing terror, Doha has consistently refused to charge those individuals or hold them behind bars for longer than a handful of months.
That includes Abdulrahman al-Nu’aymi, who according to U.S. officials once financed the organization we now know as ISIL at a rate of over $2 million a month but is currently “enjoying legal impunity” in Doha. U.S. officials have suggested Qatar’s territory may be the single biggest source of individual donations to ISIL and the “most radical groups” in Syria and Iraq.
Another stunning example is the case of Khalifa al-Subaiy, a senior state employee at Qatar’s central bank who was briefly detained by Doha in 2008 after being convicted in Bahrain on charges of terror finance. Washington soon sanctioned him on charges of having financed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former mastermind of 9/11, but three months later Qatar surprisingly let him out of jail.
Even though the Qataris promised to keep Subaiy and his finances “under control” after his release, the U.S. Treasury Department indicated last September that since then he has transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to al-Qaeda and its senior leadership in Pakistan. He is also believed by the United States government to be “enjoying legal impunity” at home in Doha.
More broadly, Qatar is perhaps the single biggest source of pro-terrorist incitement on the airwaves of the Sunni Arab world. Its notorious television station, Al Jazeera Arabic, continues to lionize terrorists so long as the civilians under attack are Israelis.
It has done so numerous times in just the past month. The network’s death toll of “shaheeds” or “martyrs” from last summer’s Gaza war includes hundreds of known militants from terror groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Other so-called martyrs according to the network include the November attackers who killed four worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue using firearms and a meat cleaver.
During that war in Gaza, Al Jazeera Arabic regularly provided an unquestioning platform to terrorist leaders, at one point interrupting an hour of primetime programming to air an entire press conference by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal.
Despite some claims that the emir’s government encouraged Meshal to leave his home in Qatar for Turkey in late December, the Wall Street Journal has since revealed that actually “Qatar continues to be the political headquarters for Hamas and its leader, Khaled Meshal.” At least two of Hamas’s other top Qatar-based leaders have been located in the country in recent weeks as well.
Additionally, Qatar provides a home base to two senior leaders of Gama’a Islamiyya, an Egyptian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that Washington designates as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Both individuals in question are also personally alleged to have blood on their hands, having served decades in prison after being convicted of helping to assassinate the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Qatar made headlines last month due to the return of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who admitted in a 2009 plea deal that he was instructed by al-Qaeda’s Khaled Sheikh Mohammed to enter the U.S. no later than September 10, 2001 and await further instructions. President Bush stated that U.S. intelligence assessments suggested Marri also discussed various targets with Mohammed, including “water reservoirs, the New York Stock Exchange, and United States military academies.”
Yet Marri was treated like a conquering hero upon his return home to Qatar. Members of his family were reportedly “delighted” after he received a personal phone call from the country’s prime minister. A board member of Al Jazeera congratulated his family, and the editor-in-chief of a newspaper owned by a member of the royal family thanked Allah for Marri’s return.
Remarkably, Marri’s tribe advertised a welcome home party for the former al-Qaeda operative that was held just down the street from one of the stadiums where Qatar intends to host the 2022 World Cup.
One video of the event discovered on social media shows al-Marri moved to tears of joy from men dancing and waving around swords in his honor. Another pans out to show an enormous dance party with men throwing their kaffiyahs up in the air in celebration. A Qatari television personality who hosts shows on charitable fundraising evidently MC’ed the event and kissed al-Marri on the head.
Realists may argue that Qatar provides America with access to al-Udeid, a military base from which our military directs air operations across the region. That Qatar is flush with cash it wants to invest in Western weapons, technology, and real estate.
Yet Michèle Flournoy, a top thinker at the Pentagon until 2012, has suggested that the base could be moved if the Qataris overplay their hand. America transferred its main air command assets to al-Udeid from Saudi Arabia just over a decade ago, so these assets have been moved before and can be moved again. Qatar has taken advantage of its military relationship with Washington as a “get out of jail free card” to promote Mideast extremists, but there is no shortage of other countries that would line up to host the base if Washington made clear it was seeking alternatives.
And while Qatar spends generously on Western investments, it gives with one hand while taking away with the other.
Much attention has been given to the way Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies “engineered” the recent oil market crash to sabotage America’s booming shale oil industry. But few have recognized that U.S. media outlets from gas producing states, including Qatar’s Al Jazeera America and Russia’s RT, have been waging what looks like a cynical information campaign to turn the U.S. public against shale natural gas.
When Tamim visited the United Kingdom in October, PM David Cameron urged Qatar to do more to combat terror finance. But because he simultaneously hit up the Emir for billions of pounds to invest in Britain’s railway infrastructure, it is hard to believe that the emir took the right message from his visit to London.
Looking to the Qataris primarily for economic handouts or basing rights would sabotage the urgent message of tough love that President Obama should be relaying to Emir Tamim. Unless Qatar revisits its support for radical extremists soon, its relationship with Washington will remain strategically and politically at risk.
David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense on Democracies. He recently published part one of a three-part monograph on Qatar-based terror finance.