A White House readout following President Trump’s phone conversation Thursday with the emir of Qatar said the two leaders discussed stopping terror finance throughout the region. Washington has good reason to raise the issue: Just last week, the Obama administration’s Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing Daniel L. Glaser revealed that designated terrorist financiers continue to operate openly in Qatar and its Gulf neighbor Kuwait.
Speaking last Monday, Glaser stated that “there continue to be designated terrorist financiers operating openly and notoriously in both countries” – the first such admission by a current or former administration official since at least 2014.
Glaser, who recently joined the board of FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, gave Qatar and Kuwait credit for criminal prosecutions regarding terror finance. As he noted previously, Qatar has conducted criminal prosecutions of terrorist financiers, and according to local press, Kuwait has charged and even convicted a number of funders of terrorism. However, it remains unclear if any of the individuals targeted by either country include alleged terror financiers who were deemed important enough to merit designation on the U.S. or UN counterterrorism sanctions lists.
In correspondence after the event, Glaser stressed that Qatar has “done a good job within their own financial system and even within their charitable sector.”
However, Glaser noted in his public remarks that Qatar still has to make some “fundamental decisions” on combating terror finance, including not only criminal prosecutions but also enacting financial measures and simply ending its “toleration” of terror fundraising within its borders. Glaser added that the constructive steps Qatar has thus far taken have been “painfully slow.” Ultimately, he said, such measures will be fundamental to ensuring that terror financiers begin viewing both Qatar and Kuwait as “hostile environments” for their activity.
Adam Szubin, who served as Treasury’s acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, revealed in October 2016 that Qatar and Kuwait were enforcing their counter-terror finance laws selectively, targeting financiers of some terrorist groups but not others.
FDD research has highlighted Qatar’s longstanding negligence toward local terror financiers of al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch. That branch, formerly known as the Nusra Front, has grown to constitute the largest single branch in al-Qaeda’s history, according to Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk. Despite rebranding itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in July 2016, it remains al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate according to the State Department.
FDD’s research documents the cases of six individuals accused of funding the Nusra Front and argues that Qatar has yet to take visible steps to convict and imprison any of them. As of mid-December 2016, Qatar had yet to file a single Mutual Legal Assistance request with the U.S. Justice Department. Such a request would be the main formal avenue for seeking American government evidence against terror financiers for use in court prosecutions. That omission is yet another worrisome sign that Doha has much to do to prove it is a reliable partner in America’s fight against terror finance.
David Andrew Weinberg is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of two FDD monographs on Qatar’s negligence toward private terror financiers. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAWeinberg