Qatar, an Islamic peninsular monarchy has rested its strategic sovereignty on Islamism as its state policy. In the Arab world though, it has been lately accused of sponsoring and shielding terror organisations and their financiers on its soil. Be it through the modern Qatari society’s ideological underpinnings in Muslim Brotherhood, or by openly supporting US-designated terror organisations like Hamas, it has carved out itself as a safe haven for global terrorists.
As a close US ally, Qatar hosts the regional headquarters of the Pentagon’s Central Command at the al-Udeid Air Base used by the US Navy patrolling the Gulf region. At the same time, it has frequently welcomed the Islamic State leadership to hold talks and negotiations with global powers. Recently, donations to Indian Islamist groups for spreading Wahabi principles in India had the backing of Qatar’s royal family members.
Qatar flirts with terrorists on a daily basis. Its relationship with terrorist groups is out in open. The FATF grey list holder, however, gathered the courage to sermon India on the rights of religious minorities in the recent Nupur Sharma controversy. Here is a sneak peek into Qatar’s interactions with terror organisations, dealings with extremist militia and funding to Islamist groups in India to fan Wahabism.
Dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood
The 20th-century Pan Islamist organisation, ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ that emerged from Egypt to promote the ideals of Sharia and religious conservatism, has historically garnered support from Qatar and Turkey beyond its origins in Egypt. Scholars say that its ideological, social and political influence in Qatar has to do with Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Islamic scholar and apostle of the brotherhood school who travelled to Qatar to spread his teachings.
In recent times, the Muslim Brotherhood has evolved as a designated terror organisation in Bahrain, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt itself. In the ultra-conservative realm of Islam, the Brotherhood stands as an arm of Qatar’s Islamist soft-power as well. During Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi’s regime in Egypt as the President, Qatar Government-backed him with the financial assistance of over USD 7.5 billion on loan. At the same time, Morsi’s government was helped by Qatar with energy supplies. There were also reports of secret monetary dealings between Doha and the Muslim brotherhood during the same time.
Open support to Hamas
As a peninsular monarchy in the middle-east, Qatar eyes itself to becoming a major player in the geopolitics of the region. The Israel-Palestine issue has always been at the centre stage of the tussle between the Western world and the Arab world in establishing strategic hegemony over the middle-east. However, the politics of the Gulf is more dynamic than it seems – given the entanglement of interests of different countries.
Qatar, which is a U.S. ally, has been traditionally providing financial support to terror organisations and extremist groups designated by the US and its allies. For example, over the Israel-Palestine issue, Qatar has taken a stand that its engagement with the Hamas – a designated Palestine terror organisation would help in establishing peace between the two countries.
Unfolding the links of Hamas as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be noted that Khaled Meeshal, the former leader of Hamas continued to live in Qatar for a long time. Meeshal is said to have owned a number of commercial properties in the nation, while he has openly hosted press conferences on behalf of the terror organisations in the Qatari capital of Doha.
At a time in May 2021, when the situation between Palestine and Israel escalated after Hamas targeted Israeli civilians by dropping shells through the air, Qatar pledged financial assistance of USD 500 million towards the reconstruction work in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. Qatar’s support to the terror organisation once again underlined concerns that the Islamic monarchy provides financial support to Hamas and other international terrorist organizations.
Contribution to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Given that the politics of the middle-east is not a black-and-white broad-stroke, the lexicon around what constitutes terrorism also changes depending on one’s own soverign interests. Despite being a US ally, Qatar’s audacity to fund Hamas has not served it well in the longer run. This led to the US state department leading an independent probe when the talks of Doha authorities officially supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were all over the place.
IRGC is another designated terrorist organisation founded after the order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. The militia enjoys a rank insignia of the Iranian military justifying its establishment as an exercise in state-sponsored terrorism. According to the US-led investigation, the probe started after The US administration was offended by the presence of the IRGC guards in a defence exhibition hosted by the Qatar government in Doha.
According to a report by Fox News, Qatar had advance information about the May 2019 attacks on Iran’s attacks on four ships in the Gulf of Oman. This information was deliberately not shared by the Qatar Government with US state officials, the news report has claimed. While intelligence reports have pinned the blame for the Fujairah Port attacks on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Qatar chose not to share this vital information with the NATO allies given its partnership with the IRGC.
Qatar and the Al-Qaeda
Former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani aka ‘HBJ’ has confessed that there could have been links between his government and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. As part of the Syrian civil war, HBJ admitted that his government had supported rebels in the war-torn nation, however, the resources so sent were approved by the US.
Qatar is known to have backed financiers of Al Qaeda, most of which are also sanctioned by the US, by granting them citizenship and identity proof in the country. “By granting IDs to some of Al Qaeda’s core financiers, Qatar defends Al Qaeda’s infrastructure from its deepest roots, thereby emphasising its commitment to sponsoring terrorism,” Jordan Cope, an expert on international relations has written.
Abd al-Malik Muhammad Yusuf Uthman Abd Al-Salam, also known as Umar Al Qatari, is a U.S.- and U.N.-designated fundraiser and arms and technology facilitator for al-Qaeda. He was arrested in Lebanon while travelling to Qatar with thousands of dollars to be funded to Al Qaeda in his possession. Umar Al Qatari, backed by Qatar is also accused of funding thousands of dollars to Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, and other Al Qaeda terrorists.
One of the beneficiaries of Al Qatari includes a Syrian terrorist group, Al-Sham which goals itself to establish an Islamist state in Syria. Al Qatari is also said to have helped Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-based Shia terrorist group which works on the lines of the IRGC. By shielding independent individuals and bodies which help Al Qaeda, Qatar covers itself from the allegations of directly supporting terror organisations.
The network of ‘philanthropic’ Terror-funding organisations
In a report published by Usanas Foundation, an India-based geopolitics and security think-tank, it was revealed that Qatar-based Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al Thani Charitable Association, also referred to as ‘Eid Charity’, has been funding millions of dollars to organisations associated with the extremist Islamic school of thought, Wahhabism since 2008. The organisation found over 1,200 transactions made to India either directly via Eid Charity or contributions by individuals. It suggested that a total of approx USD 7.82 million, or roughly Rs 58.25 crore, were sent to eight organisations in India.
The Eid Charity faced global scrutiny in 2013 when the US Department of Treasury named Abd Al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi, one of the founders of Eid Charity, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGTs). The beneficiaries of Eid Charity in India are organisations involved to spread the Wahabi ideology through school education, conservative ideals in Islam, and promote extremist and puritanical ideas like wearing Burqa, etc in India.
Through the game of narratives, Qatar has also been accused of promoting extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others through its state-run news channel Al Jazeera, which through its local channels has been spreading Anti-Zionism and Hinduphobia for achieving the goal of pan-Islamism among the gulf countries.