What did Qatar think it was doing providing $1 billion to a terrorist group?

Sanctioning Iran would act as a warning for countries that seek to expand their influence through funding terrorists.
Sunday 29/07/2018
The Qatari flag at a park near Doha Corniche. (Reuters)
In hot water. The Qatari flag at a park near Doha Corniche. (Reuters)

How should the international community deal with state-sponsored terrorism? The official position of most countries is to not negotiate with terrorists because it encourages them to commit further acts of terrorism.

Does paying a ransom encourage more of the same?

The consensus is that paying for the release of captured civilians sets the ground for more kidnappings. When terrorists discover they can collect large sums of cash and get away with it, why not repeat the exercise?

While officially most countries say they do not negotiate with terrorists, the reality is far from that claim. Except perhaps in the case of Iran, which sponsors terrorist groups, although that is very difficult to prove. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. Iran does not hide the help it provides to certain groups. Some state-sponsored organisations, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force, are masterminds of terrorist activities.

Nor do Iranians think of their proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as terrorists even if their activities fall into that category.

Who is and who is not a terrorist is a protracted debate that has had the United Nations stumped for decades trying to develop a clear definition of who or what constitutes a terrorist. It is recognised that any act of violence that victimises civilians for political purposes is an act of terrorism.

One of the most efficient tools in fighting terrorism is to go after what hurts terrorist organisations the most — their finances. In that respect, the FBI has documented much of Hezbollah’s finances and many of its illegal activities, such as drug and human trafficking. Most times, however, links are hard to prove.

Tracking down the money trail is not easy.

The BBC has revealed that, in 2015, Qatar paid approximately $1 billion to the most dangerous of Iraqi terrorist groups, Kata’ib Hezbollah — a pro-Iranian proxy similar to its namesake organisation in Lebanon. The group had taken hostage 28 Qatari nationals, including two relatives of the Qatari foreign minister.

“The payment was ostensibly made to set hostages free but, make no mistake, this was terrorist financing plain and simple,” said Sir Ivor Roberts, a member of the European Advisory Board of the Counter Extremism Project.

“It was a direct transfer of funds knowingly made to support the activities of some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. Kata’ib Hezbollah collaborates with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ al-Quds Force and with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. Some of the funds made their way to a number of other terrorist groups, including the infamous al-Nusra Front.”

What did Qatar think it was doing providing $1 billion to a terrorist group? Just releasing a senior official’s relatives?

With sums of money in that amount, it was encouraging terrorist beneficiaries to strike again.

It is imperative that the international community addresses this threat as what it is. State sponsorship of terrorism directly threatens the safety of citizens everywhere. Terrorists make no distinction in nationality, race, religion or the age of their victims.

“A good first step would be to seriously address state funding of terrorism where it is known to happen: in the Iranian regime’s funding of terrorist organisations,” Roberts said.

The biggest mistake the European Union made in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal was to leave the issue of terrorist financing out of it. Now that the deal is collapsing following the United States’ withdrawal, this is a defect that desperately needs attention.

Sanctioning Iran would act as a warning for countries that seek to expand their influence through funding terrorists. So, too, would taking a strong stance on the payment of ransoms to terrorists.

This is something many EU countries, including France and Germany, have been guilty of. By preventing the payment of ransoms to terrorists, European governments can send the message that hostage taking does not pay and thereby make the world safer.

Cutting off sources of finance for terrorist groups is perhaps the best way to prevent them from carrying out attacks. Cracking down on state sponsorship is an excellent step in this direction. With coordinated action from the international community, much can be done to make it impossible for terrorist groups to carry out their agenda.