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Qatar in the Horn of Africa: Friend or Foe?
Awad Mustafa and Karam Singh
With increasing scrutiny on Qatar to ease their foreign policy initiatives, more allegations are digging into Qatar’s already controversial track record.
Qatar has been accused of funding a broad range of Islamist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This has led to mounting diplomatic pressures and the cutting of ties by numerous neighboring Gulf nations.
Qatari funds are being used to fund a terrorist training camp in Kenya, according to a senior Arab intelligence official. The allegation is the latest in growing evidence that Qatar has been financing terror organizations in their neighborhood.
“The recruits who come out of this facility are mostly going over the border to join Al-Shabab in Somalia but, some graduates have gone to on to fight elsewhere in Africa with groups like Boko Haram.”
Despite recent allegations, there still remains no hard evidence pointing to Qatar's involvement in the ongoing conflict with Al-Shabab in Somalia.
Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, referred to as al-Shabaab, is an Islamist militant Jihadist group based in East Africa. The group is responsible for numerous suicide bombings and terrorist attacks during its fight against the Somali transitional government and the African Union Mission in Somalia. The group seeks to impose Islamist rule by fiat in Somalia.
The official added that Saudi Arabia's King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz had a two-hour meeting on Wednesday (June 21) with Russian officials on the matter in addition to receiving Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir for discussions on Qatar's role in Africa.
The allegation, though not verified, comes in the midst of diplomatic ties being cut with Qatar by six Arab governments led by Saudi Arabia. Gulf Nations have taken strict action to curb the increasing influence of Qatar, citing its alleged funding of terror groups and Qatar’s often rogue foreign policy.
Allegations of Qatar's ties to Al Shabab are nothing new. According to a U.S. State Department document leaked by WikiLeaks Somalia has also accused Qatar of funding Al-Shabab.
Another cable noted that then “Ambassador Rice expressed concerns about Qatar’s role in funding insurgents through Eritrea who was operating in Somalia.”
The US Treasury designated a Qatari businessman and scholar Abdul Rahman al-Nu’aymi in 2014. In part, because al-Nu'aymi provided $250,000 to al-Shabaab, but that being only a fraction of what Nu’aymi provided Al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq and Yemen.
In a press release, the Treasury Department said Nu’aymi was a “Qatar-based terrorist financier and facilitator who has provided money and material support and conveyed communications to al-Qa'ida and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen for more than a decade.”
Nu’aymi has rejected these claims made by the Treasury Department, saying the claims were “not completely true.”
“In the past, Qatar has always said that its payments to groups like Al-Shabab are not actual payments or military aid," said David Weinberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in D.C." Rather this is the price of doing the business of being a serious partner for peace.”
“As the Secretary has said, Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence. The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more, and he must do it more quickly.” said the U.S State Department on June 25.
In April, President Trump approved an expanded military role by deploying dozens of American soldiers to equip and train Somali forces. The U.S has also deployed regular troops to help in the fight against Al-Shabab for the first time in nearly two decades.
Although Al-Shabaab’s mission is to overthrow the government of Somalia, the terror group’s increased attacks on Kenya are the result of Kenyan troops’ involvement in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
Al-Shabab has shown a significant amount of resilience after being forced to withdraw from Mogadishu in 2011. Earlier this summer, Al-Shabaab militants massacred 31 civilians in Mogadishu, days after the U.S carried out its first strike on Al-Shabab militants which killed eight militants.