Qatar Crisis And The Fight Against Terrorism
As the Middle East became a crowded battlefield, Qatar crisis is a new conflict added to the menu. It further reveals complexity and interconnectivity of the dominant instability situation in the region, including its relation with international terrorism. Since the accusations against Qatar of supporting terrorism are coming from other Arab and Muslim countries, then the crisis, if addressed wisely, presents a unique opportunity to advance the fight against extremist terrorist groups backed not only by Qatar, but by other countries as well.
Qatar Sponsorship for Terrorism Revealed
While significant attention is given to the background, timing and possible geopolitical and economical developments of the Qatari crisis, little is focusing on what it might actually means for the fight against terrorism. One of the main reasons Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt listed for cutting ties with Qatar is backing extremist groups including Al-Qaeda and ISIS[i]. However, the analyses of these accusations’ outcome are still outside the spotlight.
For experts in terrorism and the Middle East, the accusations themselves are neither new nor shocking. Evidence has been mounting for years now that Qatar rightfully gains its status as a prime sponsor of radical Islamic violence and terrorism in the region, for three main reasons. First, the high level of political, financial, and ideological support Qatar provides to radical Islamic groups. Second, the geographic space over which these groups are spread through, from Libya to Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Gaza. Third, these policies have proven their destabilizing impact throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
By using various tactics and channels like charity organizations, fundraising activities and paying ransom, Qatar jurisdiction became a financial harbor for terrorism[ii]. Qatar is accused also of sending direct shipments of weapons and arms to different radical Islamic groups[iii]. Accordingly, this country has violated international law principles and Security Council resolutions related to fighting terrorism, most of which are under chapter seven. Including, and not limited to, Security Council resolutions 1373, 2253, 2199 and 2161 that clearly lists the obligations on member states to refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts. Security Council Resolution 2133/19 related to payments of ransom “Reaffirms that the requirements of paragraph 1(a) of resolution 2161 (2014) apply to the payment of ransoms to individuals, groups, undertakings or entities on the Al-Qaida Sanctions List, regardless of how or by whom the ransom is paid”. As of the fundraising activities, on its defense Qatar claims that all of those activities were orchestrated by individuals, not the government. However, even if that holds true, Qatar is aware of these activates, and according to international law, still has the liability. Security Council Resolution 2199/21 specifically “recalls the importance of all Member States complying with their obligation to ensure that their nationals and persons within their territory do not make donations to individuals and entities designated by the Committee or those acting on behalf of or at the direction of designated entities”.
Further, what is actually even more dangerous and destructive is Qatar’s role in promoting fundamentalism, extremism and sectarianism in the Arab World by manipulation, successfully, two main methods. First, hosting and sponsoring extremist Islamic clerics who openly back groups like al-Nusra Front in Syria[iv], a group that is arguably more dangerous than ISIS[v]. Of course, these clerics’ fatwas and calls for Jihad are constantly harmonized with Qatar foreign policies. The other powerful tool Qatar has is Al Jazeera TV Network, which plays a significant role in information laundry to propagate for terrorism and sectarianism[vi] and openly spreading hatred toward the ‘infidel’ west.
Consequently, with these policies, Qatar did not only support terrorist groups, but also helped damaging the fabric of societies in the Arab World, and caused, intentionally or unintentionally, further spread of international terrorism.
Backing Militia Groups as a Common Practice in the Region
On the ground, in Syria, the fights between radical Islamic militias in Damascus’ suburbs supported by Qatar from one side (Al-Nusra and Failaq Al-Rahman) and Saudi Arabia from the other side (Islamic Army), started weeks before the diplomatic crisis[vii], revealing and predicting a deep conflict between the two countries. The fights between radical Islamic militias backed by these countries are precedent, not only in Syria, but in other countries as well like in Libya. However, the violent clashes have escalated to new levels after the crisis surfaced, and started spreading into new areas in Syria, especially to Idlib and Hama.
It should be mentioned here that backing militia groups is not uncommon practice in the Middle East. Turkey and Iran also exercise these kinds of activities in the course of conducting their foreign policies. These practices are means to extend power, interest and influence. Indeed, the complex conflicts in the region helped further deepen such policies which have led to worsening and fueling the wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Nonetheless, there are two main differences that make certain Arab Gulf States practices worth more attention from experts and policy makers. First, Iran’s support to certain militia groups is internationally exposed and it is on the United States’ list as a state sponsor of terrorism. Hence, political, economical and legal measures are already in place to punish and deter Iran from these polices, opposite to the case of certain Arab Gulf States. The other difference is that the vast majority of international terrorist attacks in Europe, the United States and other places are related to the ideology of the groups backed by these Arab Gulf States.
Turkey, on the other hand, Qatar closest ally in the region, is still outside the exposure of supporting radical Islamic groups. In fact, Turkey supports the very same groups Qatar supports, especially in Syria[viii]. Tension between Turkey from one side and Saudi Arabia and UAE from the other side started to surface as well. Turkey is definitely not satisfied with the results of the Riyadh summit and will not support Saudi Arabia to become the leader of the Islamic World; a role Turkey believes definitely deserves itself[ix]. Also, Turkish reports are talking about possible UAE role in the failed coup that took place in 2016[x]. The UAE is as well accused by Turkish officials of trying to undermine Turkey on the international stage wherever possible[xi]. Further, Turkey observes, and acts with maximum cautiousness toward the Qatari crisis, worrying the impact it will have on its policies and economy. What is even more worrying for Turkey is President Trump’s accusation for Qatar of funding terrorism ‘At very high level’[xii] and the possible United States position from this crisis. If we add the corporation between the United States and the Kurdish militias in Syria, which Turkey consider a threat to its own national security, then we can understand how troubling the region looks like for Turkey today. In all cases, the case of Turkey’s support to radical Islamic groups might get further crystallized, depending on how Qatar crisis will evolve.
The Unique Opportunity
The Arab Gulf States look up to the United States as a protector more than an ally. Hence, there is a general belief in the region that policies of those who are allies, or under the protection of the United States, are overlooked when it comes to files like human rights and extremist ideology. Also, having Iran as common enemy with the United States have further given these states the impression they could conduct certain activities without consequences. Thus, taking advantage of their relation with the United States and exploiting the troubled relations between Iran and the United States, certain Arab Gulf States believes their practices are beyond accountability before the international community.
Further, as mentioned above, the accusations against Qatar are not new. However, the position and the identity of the accusers, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE, are definitely new chapter in the story. Saudi Arabia and UAE are not innocent when it comes to backing radical Islamic groups and, it is well known that Saudi Arabia is the one behind wahabisim extremist ideology which these groups feed upon[xiii]. Thus, as the accusations against Qatar of supporting terrorism are coming from countries inside the Gulf Corporation Council are unprecedented, therefore, the unique opportunity comes from the following three reasons. First, the confrontation and the accusations are from former close allies that have great deal of information about Qatar policies and tactics in conducting certain practices. Meaning, further exposure and evidence can be presented against Qatar, which we already have started witnessing. Second, lifting the cover and protection off Qatar’s support for terrorism from other Arab and Muslim countries gives the fight against terrorism a strong push forward. There is more room for the west and the international community to take actions against these condemned policies away from walking the mine field of the arguments of clash of civilizations, or that the actions taken are from non-Muslim countries against a Muslim country, an argument the extremist groups highly manipulate. Also, the case of Qatar is unique in sense that it supports radical Islamic groups that are internationally recognized as terrorist groups, including by Arab and Muslim countries and even Qatar itself. Meaning, there is no room either to defend its acts as it is supporting ‘resistance’ groups, or that these groups have a legit cause or goal. Therefore, if directed with this rational, the arguments and general mood within the societies of the Middle East will fundamentally shift, from justifying and being compassion with certain militia groups because of their religion and sectarian background, to the actual problem of extremist groups and how to counter and eliminate them. Third, regardless of the real reasons and intentions behind the accusation against Qatar of supporting terrorism, the fact that Qatar is exposed the way it did, with the actions taken, or could be taken, against it, will make other countries in the region revisit their policies in supporting extremist groups, knowing that it might have serious consequences, and will be encouraged to coordinate more stringent policies especially when it comes to financial support of these groups.
Accordingly, further actions against Qatar are highly recommended to advance the fight against terrorism and to prevent and deter Qatar and other countries from backing extremist groups. Some countries are already taking certain legal actions. In Libya, the Parliament instructed the Libyan Justice Ministry to prepare an integrated file on the destabilizing damage caused to the country due to Qatar's support of terrorist groups and extremists, and to file a request to the International Criminal Court.[xiv] Tunisia opened an investigation into alleged transfer of significant amounts of money from Qatar to finance illegal activities, in Tunisia and abroad, through institutions under the Tunisian banking system[xv]. Egypt called for the United Nations Security Council to launch an investigation into accusations that Qatar paid a ransom of up to $1 billion to an active terrorist group in Iraq to release kidnapped members of its royal family[xvi].
As for the United States, it is still unclear how it will develop its position from this complicated crisis. However, while calculating and measuring what strategy needs to be developed toward the fast escalating situation in the region, the decision makers need to pay close attention that the current crisis has the potential to build on policies which strictly deter countries in the Middle East from further backing radical Islamic groups and get them involved, substantially and effectively, in the fight against terrorism
The Middle East is going through a long period of instability and emerging unpredictable conflicts. Each and every country in the region has its national security deeply threatened, and every incident in the region indicates that further escalation in the situation is more likely. Qatar crisis adds new level of uncertainty and fear to the already troubled region. However, within this chaos, Qatar crisis presents a unique opportunity to make a big step forward in fighting terrorism. The exposure of Qatar sponsorship of terrorism comes from its former Arab and Muslim allies, revealing further solid evidence and countering the sensitivity of acting against a Muslim country. Moreover, the actions taken against Qatar will set a precedent encouraging other countries to refrain from conducting such constructive policies.
[ii] Weinberg, David (December, 2014). Qatar And Terror Finance. Foundation For Defense Of Democracies. https://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/publications/Qatar_Part_I.pdf
Knickmeyer, Ellen (July, 2014). Al Qaeda-Linked Groups Increasingly Funded By Ransom. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/ransom-fills-terrorist-coffers-1406637010
Warrick, Joby, and Tik Root (December, 2013). Islamic Charity Officials Gave Millions To Al-Qaeda, U.S. Says. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/islamic-charity-officials-gave-millions-to-al-qaeda-us-says/2013/12/22/e0c53ad6-69b8-11e3-a0b9-249bbb34602c_story.html?utm_term=.821018b5293c
Kendall, A.D (July, 2014). Al Qaeda Financiers Use Qatar For International Activities. The Terror Finance Blog. https://counterjihadreport.com/2014/07/30/al-qaeda-financiers-use-qatar-for-international-activities/
Mauldin, William (October, 2014). U.S. Calls Qatar, Kuwait Lax Over Terror Financing. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-calls-qatar-kuwait-lax-over-terror-financing-1414108799
Qatar Reportedly Gave $500 Mln To Popular Mobilization Militias In Iraq. (May, 2017). English.alarabiya.net. https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/05/29/Qatar-reportedly-gave-500-mln-to-Popular-Mobilization-militias-in-Iraq.html
[iii] Blair, David, and Richard Spencer (September, 2014). How Qatar Is Funding The Rise Of Islamist Extremists. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/qatar/11110931/How-Qatar-is-funding-the-rise-of-Islamist-extremists.html
Mazzetti, Mark, Michael Schmidt, and James Risen (December, 2012). U.S.-Approved Weapons Transfer Ended Up With Libyan Jihadis. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/africa/weapons-sent-to-libyan-rebels-with-us-approval-fell-into-islamist-hands.html
Hanna, John (May, 2014). Qatar Needs To Do Its Part. Foreign Policy. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/22/qatar-needs-to-do-its-part/
[iv] Dickinson, Elizabeth (September, 2014). The Case Against Qatar. Foreign Policy. http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/30/the-case-against-qatar/ .
[v] Clarke, Colin P. Clarke and Barak Mendelsohn (October, 2016). Commentary: Al Qaeda’S Ruthless Pragmatism Makes It More Dangerous Than Islamic State. Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-counterterrorism-commentary-idUSKCN12R0AL
[vi] Duarte, Carlos, Boaz Ganor, and Katharina von Knop. Hypermedia Seduction For Terrorist Recruiting (NATO Science For Peace And Security Series. E, Human And Societal Dynamics, Vol. 25). 1st ed. IOS Press, 2007. Print. P284.
Hanna, Rachael (June,2015). Al Jazeera Reporter Endorses Terrorists. Gatestone Institute https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6027/al-jazeera-terrorists
[vii] Abd Al-Munem, khaled (June, 2014). On The Ground Of The Saudi Qatari Conflict, The Fights Between Militia Groups In Syria Are Escalating [Arabic]. El-Badil. https://elbadil.com/2017/06/%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d9%88%d9%82%d8%b9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ae%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%81-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%82%d8%b7%d8%b1%d9%8a-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b3%d8%b9%d9%88%d8%af%d9%8a-%d9%85%d8%b9%d8%a7%d8%b1%d9%83-%d8%a7%d9%84/
[x] Sones, Mordechai (June, 2017). Qatar Crisis: UAE Accused Of Bankrolling Turkey Coup. Israel National News. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/230961
[xii] Edson, Rich (June, 2017). Trump Says Qatar Must End Terrorism Funding. Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/06/09/trump-says-qatar-must-end-terrorism-funding.html
[xiii] Qatar Spat Reveals Double Standards: Terrorism Supporters Accuse Others Of Supporting Terrorism. (June, 2017) RT International. https://www.rt.com/op-edge/390962-saudi-arabia-qatar-terrorism/
[xv] Tunisia Probes Into Qatari Transactions To Libyan Terrorists. (June, 2017) EgyptToday. https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/7175/Tunisia-probes-into-Qatari-transactions-to-Libyan-terrorists
[xvi] Egypt Calls For U.N. Inquiry Into Accusation Of Qatar Ransom Payment. (June, 2017) Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gulf-qatar-un-idUSKBN18Z26W