Qatar’s dubious ties to terrorist groups justify its boycott

By maintaining connections to al-Qaeda and the like, Doha hopes to render services which Western countries cannot.
Saturday 23/05/2020
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, receives a released Qatari hostage at the Doha airport in Doha, April 21, 2017. (AP)
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, receives a released Qatari hostage at the Doha airport in Doha, April 21, 2017. (AP)

Throughout its long history, Somalia drew its strength from its strategic geographical location.

It was once one of the vital trading centres of the known world, and its long coast line made it the eastern gate of the African continent. But, all that could not guarantee its stability. Somalia has been consumed since the early 1990s by civil wars caused by tribal ambitions. The absence of a strong central authority led to the emergence of piracy off the Somalian coast at the beginning of the current century.

Among the many extremist movements that had emerged in Somalia is the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab Movement. The movement quickly developed close ties with Doha since 2004; and it was no coincidence that 2004 was the same year Qatar weaved its web of ties with the Houthis in Yemen. Houthi elements were granted Qatari passports which gave them freedom of movement.

Any organisation that has relations with the Qatari regime automatically has relations with the Turkish regime. This is very evident today in the case of Libya, where both regimes support the so-called National Accord Government which is “misleadingly called the recognized government”, while in fact it has yet to be recognized by the Libyan Parliament to acquire any legitimacy, as required by the Skhirat Agreement.

Of the two rogue regimes, the one in Turkey was less daring to openly and directly maintain ties to terrorist organisations, perhaps because of Turkey’s membership in NATO.

This did not, however, prevent the Turkish regime from seting its eyes on the Gulf region, motivated perhaps by the new Sultan’s daydream of resurrecting the Ottoman Empire, especially after his dream of being accepted by the European Union was shattered, followed by the quick shipwreck of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ambitions in Egypt on the rock of the Saudi-Emirati alliance.

The new Turkish Sultan was relentless in his Gulf dream. First, he leased the Sudanese island of Suakin to build a military base there, then he signed a military agreement with the Qatari regime, which turned the Turkish army into a royal guard at Al-Wajbah Palace in Doha, most likely to keep a cautious eye on the Emir there.

His latest achievement, however, was in Somalia, where he built in Mogadishu the biggest Turkish military base outside of Turkey. The base was inaugurated in 2017 and many projects were undertaken to market Turkey in Somalia. Not to be ungrateful towards the Sultan, and the Somali governmentclosed all of the schools in Somalia associated with Turkish Guru and Erdogan’s archenemy Fethullah Gulen.

Wanting to expand its influence in Somalia and restrict the influence of any alternative Gulf country there, Doha was very generous in assisting several Somali parties, especially the al-Shabaab Movement, the al-Qaeda affiliate which claimed independence from al-Qaeda Central following bin Laden’s death in 2012.

This video grab taken 23 June 2002 from the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television channel shows a photo of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a spokesman for the al-Qaeda network. ( AFP)
This video grab taken 23 June 2002 from the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television channel shows a photo of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a spokesman for the al-Qaeda network.  (AFP)

By 2015, the movement’s offensive tactics changed, which did lend credence to the theory that al-Qaeda chiefs Saif al-Adl and Abu Muhammad al-Masrihad chosen to push on to Somalia after leaving Iran for Yemen, in order to flee the increasing drone attacks on known al-Qaeda leaders by the Americans.

Last year, the New York Times published a leaked audio recording of a call between the Qatari ambassador to Somalia, Hassan bin Hamza Hashem, and the Qatari businessman Khalifa Kayedal-Muhannadi, who is close to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, in which al-Muhannadi said “We know who carried out the attacks that targeted the Emiratis in Somalia,” and that the goal behind these attacks was to “expel the Emirati (investments) by not renewing their contracts” and replacing them with Qatari investments.

The investment that Al-Muhannadi intended to expel from Somalia is an investment in Bosasso Port, where the Dubai-owned P&O Ports Company had signed in April 2017 an agreement with the breakaway region of Puntland, according to which the company obtained a 30-year concession to invest in the port ata cost of $ 336 million.

In retrospect now, Al-Qaeda’s choice of the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera TV channel as its mouthpiece was not a coincidence, but rather the result of a strong relationship that binds the two parties, a relationship that also served some Western parties.

Thanks to such a relationship, the Qatari regime could offer services which these Western governments could not legally perform, such as paying ransom for the release of Western prisoners. And who can forget the al-Qaeda videos broadcast by Al-Jazeera and which contributed to the re-election of Bush Jr?

Speaking of paying ransom, it was easy to see in the case of the Syrian war that no other party enjoyed better relations with the Islamist organisation Al-Nusra Front than the Qatari regime. Al-Jazeera went as far as to broadcast a whole interview with the organisation’s leader al-Julani. The interview was conducted by Ahmed Mansour and the programme carried the telling title, No Limits.

Doha has even brokered prisoner exchange deals between Hezbollah and the Islamic State, allowing entire busloads of ISIS elements to freely leave Lebanon heading for Idlib in Syria. This is not surprising since Doha has always provided cover and financing for deals of this nature to create a balance between terrorist groups from all sects and orientations, in coordination with Turkey and Iran.

Ronald Sandy, a Dutch analyst specialising in counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, published European intelligence information regarding a secret deal, whereby Qatar would finance the extremist organisation Boko Haram in sub-Saharan Africa, provided it is able later to negotiate with the terrorist group the release of kidnapped Western citizens.

By negotiating the release of the hostages and pay their ransom on behalf of the Western governments  Doha would gain popular acceptance in European official circles and public opinion. This is how the Qatari regime was able to finance terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, without being subjected to inquiries or sanctions.

Today, the same questions about Qatar’s relations with al-Qaeda, and the al-Shabaab Movement in Somalia in particular, float back to the surface with the liberation of the Italian aid worker in Somalia Silvia Romano. The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian party Brothers of Italy, called Carlo Fidanza, called on Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to disclose the details of the liberation of the kidnapped Romano, and of Qatar’s role and that of Turkish intelligence in the affair

As we can see, we have here a long history of media, political and of course economic relations between Qatar and terrorist organisations. It was all part of the tiny state’s quest for a greater regional role. Of course, the sly nature of the services rendered to Western capitals makes them bless this role. This in turn comforts us every day that the boycott decided by the Arab quartet against this country was the right decision in order to stabilize the region and combat terrorism.