The drone killing of Qasem Soleimani surprised many of us, but the Iranian General’s role in covertly spreading terrorism – especially against Israel and the West through extraterritorial organizations – should be no surprise. It’s a common ploy in the Middle East.
As a member of Congress, I joined many colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in condemning another country’s role in funding terrorism across the Middle East: Qatar. That gas-rich sheikdom’s funding of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and extremist groups – and not least its longstanding partnership with Iran – is unprecedented among nations which receive US military support and other benefits.
Eventually, 12 countries, enraged at Qatar’s meddling in their domestic and foreign affairs, especially through its funding of extremist groups, cut their diplomatic ties. Facing severe global pressure, Qatar made a few concessions to reduce its support of terrorist groups.
However, funding seems to have continued, although through veiled means. These schemes are chronicled in The Qatar Papers, a recent book based on Qatar Charity’s internal documents, which describe the funneling of the NGO’s monies to secretly foment Islamic fundamentalism. The book documents funding through 2016, and experts attest that it continues.
One expert, widely cited in the book, is Lorenzo Vidino, the director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He has conducted 20 years of research on Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood financing in the West. Prof. Vidino has found abundant evidence of Qatar’s covert funding of extremism throughout the world, including the West, through both overt and covert channels
One recent case, concerning an aggrieved party that my firm represents, strongly suggests how Qatar has continued to fund terrorism. The United Kingdom’s High Court heard the client’s legal case and ruled for the client in an award now totaling $6 billion, an attention-getting sum.
More concerning, however, is that it disappeared in a manner that likely reveals a new approach to terrorist funding in Qatar: low-ranking members of the Qatari royal family working with swindlers to siphon money destined quite probably to extremist groups.
CONSIDER THE contrast between the two bad actors in this case: on the one hand, royalty from a resource-rich country that boasts the world’s highest income per capita; on the other, a shadowy figure in Italy who, according to credible news accounts, has been convicted of serious financial crimes.
This theft of money fits a scenario I defined when heading the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa: “In Qatar, there are three buckets: terror financing by the government; terror financing done in Qatar through their own citizens that their government may not know about; and terror financing in Qatar that the government knows about but does nothing to stop.”
Had I known, I would have added a fourth category: terror financing undertaken by the Qatari royal family in concert with international criminals.
This isn’t an isolated incident – this is a troubling and unacceptable pattern of behavior.
The Qatar Papers unveils the vast distribution web of Qatar’s supposed “charity,” which the US government classifies as a “terror support entity” funder. Further, Qatar Charity is veiled in misleading accounting, UK Charity Commission concluded last August. Thus, funds flow in non-transparent ways.
To wit, The London Times reported in August that a Qatari bank in London has been accused by the British High Court of funding jihadis. Its chairman and several directors are members of the emirate’s ruling al-Thani family.
Qatar claims to have ended its role in terror funding and the subversion of neighboring regimes. It has tempered its coverage on Al Jazeera and made amends to end the withdrawal of ambassadors and get closer to ending the regional embargo.
But these measures are superficial. Qatar’s terrorist funding is deep-rooted and is partly based on its jockeying for regional leadership alongside Iran. Note whom Qatar funds: elements such as Hamas that threaten the existence of Israel, one of America’s most sacred allies.
To redeem its standing in the world order, Qatar must mend its ways, not just mouth the words. It cannot expect to command respect through gestures such has hosting the World Cup, for which Qatar has already violated the human rights of migrant workers.
The writer is senior advisor for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. She served three decades in Congress, including a term as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.