Qatar and the curious case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Sunday 23/07/2017
The mastermind. A picture purportedly showing al-Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, supposed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. (AFP)

London- Much has been said and written about Qatar’s ties to and support of the Muslim Brother­hood domestically and abroad. Equally well-docu­mented is the Gulf country’s less-than-clandestine support for al- Qaeda and its offshoots before and after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Doha’s alleged support for ex­tremist groups was brought to the forefront in its conflict with four other Arab countries, a former US counterterrorism official publicly highlighted the severity of the coun­try’s involvement.

In a recent column in the New York Daily News, Richard Clarke, who led the Counter-terrorism Se­curity Group in the Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations, gave a detailed account of Qatar’s harbouring individuals the United States and other countries have des­ignated as terrorist supporters, in­cluding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Clarke said the accusations levied at Qatar go back as many as 20 years. KSM appeared on the US intelligence community’s radar after the 1993 at­tack on the World Trade Centre and the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434. Both operations were supposedly financed by him and perpetrated by his nephew Ramzi Yousef and other co-conspirators.

In 1996, the US intelligence com­munity “found (KSM) in Qatar, where he had been given a patron­age job in the Water Department,” Clarke said.

Clarke wrote that, in a pre-9/11 world, counterterrorism operations were difficult to get approval for, so the option of an extraordinary rendition mission — a government-sponsored abduction from country to country — was not possible.

“The Qataris had a history of ter­rorist sympathies and one cabinet member in particular, a member of the royal family, seemed to have ties to groups like al-Qaeda and ap­peared to have sponsored KSM,” wrote Clarke about the US govern­ment’s reservations in asking Doha to hand him over.

Although not mentioned by name by Clarke, the member of the Qatari royal family in question was former Qatari Minister of Religious Affairs and Interior Minister Abdul­lah bin Khalid al-Thani, ABC News reported. He is the uncle of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani.

With their options limited, US of­ficials contacted the Qatari leader­ship directly regarding the matter. Clarke said that “within hours of the US ambassador’s meeting with the emir, KSM had gone to ground. In tiny Doha, no one was able to find him. Later, the Qataris told us that they believe he had left the country. They never told us how.”

KSM allegedly was the master­mind behind the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Bali bombings in 2002 and the killing of Wall Street Jour­nal reporter Daniel Pearl. He was captured in a raid in Pakistan in 2003 and has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay since 2006.

The story of KSM’s ties to the Qatari government does not end there. In recent years, calls by the United States and the United Na­tions for Doha to hand over a for­mer Qatari Central Bank official for supporting KSM and al-Qaeda have been largely ignored.

In 2008, the US Treasury Depart­ment designated Khalifa Muham­mad Turki al-Subaiy a terrorist financier for “providing financial and material support to al-Qaeda.” After Subaiy was found guilty in ab­sentia in a Bahraini court for terror offences, he was sent to jail in Qatar but was released six months later.

Despite being assured by Qa­tari officials that Subaiy was being monitored and was under control, Subaiy was implicated in terror fi­nancing for allegedly transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Pakistani branch of al-Qaeda, Wiki-Leaks said.

In 2014, US officials said Subaiy was operating freely in Doha and was funding terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Recently, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt included Subaiy on a list of 59 individuals, based in Qatar, wanted for support and involvement in ter­rorism.