Qatar faces 'embarrassing' lawsuit in US for terrorism financing

Lawsuit against Qatar Islamic Bank, Qatar Charity filed by American photojournalist held hostage in Syria. 
Sunday 16/02/2020
Qatar Charity building in the Qatari capital, Doha. (AFP)
Legal issues. Qatar Charity building in the Qatari capital, Doha. (AFP)

LONDON - Matthew Schrier, an American photojournalist held hostage in Syria by jihadist groups, has filed a lawsuit against two Qatari entities he said are responsible for his 221-day ordeal.

Newsweek magazine reported that the lawsuit, filed in January in Florida, could "deeply embarrass" Qatar's "monarchy which for years has sought to foster closer ties with Washington." It also reveals Qatar's use of banking and NGOs to finance terrorist activities.

Schrier is seeking damages from the Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) and Qatar Charity for their alleged ties to the financing of Jabhat al-Nusra, a former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, another jihadist organisation in Syria, which held him hostage from December 2012-July 2013.

“The [Nusra] Front subjected Mr Schrier to horrific conditions and extreme psychological and physical abuse,” the complaint said. “He was beaten and tortured on at least ten occasions, often by teams of terrorists, threatened multiple times with summary execution, and forced to observe and hear the torture of other prisoners.”

“He was deprived of water and food, held in rooms that were freezing cold or boiling hot, without light or ventilation and denied access to bathrooms for days at a time,” the complaint added.

Schrier did not cite the Doha government directly in the lawsuit but said he considered it to be connected to the activities of the two outfits.

Qatar Charity has been long suspected of financing extremist groups. In 2009, WikiLeaks published cables showing that Washington was wary of the organisation because of "its suspect activities abroad and reported links with extremists," as well as "intent and willingness to provide financial support to terrorist organisations willing to attack US persons or interests."

Members of the ruling al-Thani family sit on the Qatar Islamic Bank's board of directors. The former captive told Newsweek that Qatari royals are "neck-deep in this."

Schrier also said QIB directly bankrolled Qatar Charity, which allegedly funded al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham.

QIB told Newsweek in an email that it was "aware of the lawsuit in Florida and denies the allegations."

Schrier claims the bank allowed a Qatari citizen Sa’d al-Ka’bi to open an account in the name of his son and use it to funnel money from donors around the world to al-Nusra. In 2015, Ka’bi was sanctioned by the US State Department.

“They ran a very public social media campaign soliciting donations from all over the Middle East, not just Qatar, to finance al-Nusra Front. And many of these social media tweets and WhatsApp and YouTube and Facebook posts literally had Qatar Islamic Bank’s name and the account number, which was funnelling the money directly to al-Qaeda,” said Schrier.

“QIB knew or should have known al-Nusra Front was assaulting Americans in Syria by torturing them,” the complaint says. “QIB acted wilfully, wantonly, recklessly or with deliberate disregard to the Nusra Front’s assault on Americans in Syria, including Mr Schrier.”

"It's not just about money," Schrier told Newsweek. "It's about putting this entire saga of my life behind me and never talking about it again."

If he wins damages from the lawsuit, Schrier said the money would go to other former captives of jihadist jails and their families and to those who helped him escape from captivity.