Monday, March 20, 2023

Qatar, a major US ally, faces fresh charges of terror funding

Qatar, a key US ally in the Persian Gulf, is facing increasing scrutiny over its alleged financial ties to terrorism, the trial of relatives of a slain American journalist and a separate federal investigation into a member of the country’s royal family.

Steven Sotloff’s family A federal trial on Friday alleged that major Qatari institutions wired $800,000 to an Islamic State “judge” who ordered the killings of Sotloff and another US journalist, James Foley., Both were beheaded in Syria in 2014, their killings were filmed and published in horrific propaganda videos.

The Sotloff family said in a statement explaining their lawsuit, “We want to do everything we can to ensure that no other family suffers what we have.”

Separately, federal prosecutors are investigating possible links between the terrorist groups and the half-brother of Qatar’s ruling Emir, Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani, according to documents reviewed by the Associated Press and interviewed by two people familiar with the investigation.

Two men said a grand jury investigation out of the Southern District of New York has focused on whether Khalid al-Thani provided money and supplies to al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda branch in Syria. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Qatar has enjoyed a strong relationship With the Biden administration. The world’s richest country per capita played an important role in the evacuation of people from Afghanistan And its massive supply of natural gas could help keep Europe’s energy markets afloat amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. Qatar can also play an important role In President Joe Biden’s bid to revive the nuclear deal with Iran.

The Qatari embassy said it needed more information before commenting on the reported investigation, and did not immediately comment on the trial.

Earlier this year, Biden named Qatar a major non-NATO ally, a move that aided in the country’s bid to gain US approval for the more than $500 million sale of the MQ-9 Reaper drone. could. Qatar is home to the largest US Air Force base in the Gulf.

“Qatar is a good friend and a reliable partner,” Biden said while hosting Qatar’s ruler Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House in January.

But Qatar, which had one of the strongest international supporters The rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad has faced criticism from some US officials for allowing or encouraging the financing of extremist groups in Syria, as well as direct and indirect support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Qatar has said it condemns terrorism, but officials have also acknowledged that its efforts may have helped the wrong people.

“Look, in Syria, everyone, including your country, made mistakes,” Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s former prime minister and foreign minister, said in a 2017 interview. With American journalist Charlie Rose. He said Qatar had never intentionally funded extremist groups in Syria and cut funding to any group it learned had another “agenda”.

Lawyers for the Sotloff family said in the trial that Qatari officials “either knew or recklessly overlooked” that the Islamic State terrorists they were allegedly funding were committing Americans to kidnapping, torture and murder. will target.

Foreign countries and government officials generally cannot be prosecuted in US courts. But the US Anti-Terrorism Act allows terror victims to seek damages from private entities linked to governments. The defendants in the Sotloff suit, Qatar Charity and Qatar National Bank, are accused of knowingly facilitating funding to terrorist groups.

Specifically, the lawsuit says that the charity and the bank provided $800,000 to Fadel al-Salim, which he allegedly smuggled into Syria from Turkey and then to form a “Brigade of Islamic State Fighters” and become a “Sharia judge”. used.

Sotloff’s complaint states that al-Salim signed a “decision of legal retaliation” ordering the deaths of Foley and Sotloff as well as leading a convoy that took the couple to Raqqa, Syria. transported from a prison to the city where they were killed.

Representatives for Qatar Charities and Qatar National Bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Al Salim’s current whereabouts are unknown. But US prosecutors have made significant progress in separate criminal cases against two British Islamic State terrorists responsible for the killings of Sotloff and three other American detainees.

Alexandra Cote was recently sentenced to life in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Al Shafi Elsheikh, convicted in a jury trial last month, also faced life imprisonment when sentenced in August.

Cote and Elsheikh were part of a cell of British militants known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their pronunciation. He was captured in Syria in 2018 and transferred to the US for criminal trial in 2020, when Attorney General William Barr agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

Another terrorist, Mohamed Emwazi – known as “Jihadi John” – was killed in a US drone strike in 2015 and a fourth was arrested in Turkey.

Sotloff, Foley and Peter Kassig were beheaded as part of a propaganda video released by IS in 2014, while Kayla Mueller was tortured and raped before being killed by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had gone. Officials said British and Japanese captives were also killed as a result of the hostage-taking.

“We are forever broken by the loss of our beloved son, and defined as people from a horror movie,” mother Shirley Sotloff said at the hearing of Cote’s sentencing.

The Sotloff lawsuit, filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, does not explain how the information in the complaint was obtained. But it includes high-level details, such as a unique bank account number, excerpts from a handwritten statement accepting the payment, and Islamic State judicial records.

The lawsuit also alleges that members of the Qatari royal family and government officials worked with the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkish intelligence to fund extremist groups in Syria aimed at undermining the Assad regime.

The two lawsuits filed have made similar allegations of funding major Qatari terrorist groups. On behalf of Syrian refugees in London.

Ben Emerson, a London-based lawyer representing the refugees, said there is clear evidence that US officials have turned a blind eye to Qatar’s terror financing in Syria because the US needs Qatar’s help in other areas.

“It’s real political in action,” he said.

A London lawsuit alleges that Qatar National Bank’s board members made hawala payments – an informal money transfer system – directly to al-Qaeda’s branch al-Nusra in Syria. These include transfers pursuant to a lawsuit by the emir’s half-brother, Khalid al Thani. He previously served on the board of Qatar National Bank.

It is unclear whether these payments are part of a grand jury investigation involving Khaled al-Thani, who is at least a year old. Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.


Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia. Eric Tucker from Washington contributed.


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