An American photojournalist kidnapped and tortured by a Syrian terror group is suing Qatar Islamic Bank for allegedly funding it. The case reinforces Qatar’s ongoing challenges in tackling terror finance in the Middle East.
Matthew Schrier was kidnapped in 2012 by al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-aligned extremist group, while reporting on the Syrian civil war. Al-Nusra kept Schrier hostage for 211 days. During that time, the terrorist group beat and tortured him at least 10 times; forced him to see and hear the torture of other prisoners; and periodically withheld water and food. Briefly, al-Nusra turned Schrier over to another Syrian militant group, Ahrar al-Sham, which also mistreated him.
In January, Schrier filed a lawsuit against Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB), the emirate’s largest sharia-compliant bank, claiming that both al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham “used an international network of donors and charities” to fund their operations. The lawsuit also claims QIB provided “financial services to those donors and financial support to the charities.”
The lawsuit implicates Qatari national Saad al-Kabi as one funder of al-Nusra. Al-Kabi was sanctioned by the United States in 2015 for supporting the terrorist group. The U.S. Treasury Department noted that al-Kabi set up a donation campaign in Qatar to fund al-Nusra, a fact Schrier repeated in his complaint. According to the complaint, al-Kabi instructed individuals to deposit funds into an account he established at QIB under his child’s name. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that QIB knew what the account was used for – but allowed al-Kabi to use it for more than a year.
Schrier’s complaint also alleges that QIB gave donations to Qatar Charity, a non-governmental organization allegedly implicated in other terror finance cases. A federal terrorism case in 2002 alleged that Osama bin Laden used the charity to fund al-Qaeda in 1993. Qatar Charity was also accused of sending money and humanitarian goods to the Syrian Islamic Front, a Syrian Salafist network dominated by Ahrar al-Sham.
QIB donated to Qatar Charity in 2012 and 2013, according to the lawsuit. In addition, Schrier’s complaint charges that QIB allowed Qatar Charity to operate eight accounts at the bank, suggesting that QIB “agreed, expressly or tacitly,” to facilitate terror groups’ activities.
Schrier’s lawsuit once again raises questions about Qatar’s poor record on terror finance. Qatar has funded extremist groups throughout the Middle East, including Hamas in Gaza, radicals in Syria, and militants in Libya. In other instances, Doha has allowed terror financiers to live in Qatar – some under U.S. and UN sanctions.
In 2017, Qatar concluded two memoranda of understanding with the United States to boost cooperation on countering terror finance. Yet Doha continues its support for a number of terrorist groups. The Trump administration should pressure Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to undertake verifiable steps to improve its illicit finance record. And as the Schrier case may underscore, Qatar must also reckon with its past.
Varsha Koduvayur is a senior research analyst focusing on the Gulf at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Varsha and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Varsha on Twitter @varshakoduvayur. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.