Terror financiers operate freely in Qatar: U.S.

Cohen has accused Qatar and its near neighbor Kuwait of being “permissive jurisdictions for terrorist financing,” but until now the fate of a number of money men – formally identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists by the U.S. government — has not been known.

The Telegraph’s attempts to get a response from the Qatari authorities have been rebuffed.

During a question and answer session following a keynote speech in Washington, D.C., Cohen said: “There are U.S.- and UN-designated terrorist financiers in Qatar that have not been acted against under Qatari law. There’s Khalifa al-Subaiy — and more recently, Abd al-Nuaymi, who we designated last December, the UN designated in August.” Cohen added that both men were residents in Qatar.

As is the case with other financiers of Jihadist groups, both al-Nuaymi and al-Subaiy are well-connected to Qatar’s ruling elite.

Both are accused of raising millions of dollars for al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups.

Al-Subaiy, 49, a former Qatari Central Bank employee, was blacklisted as a terrorist fundraiser in 2008, but is still heavily involved in a Jihadist network.

An official American report identified al-Subaiy as “a Qatar-based terrorist financier and facilitator who has provided financial support to, and acted on behalf of, al-Qaeda senior leadership, including senior al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) prior to KSM’s capture in March 2003.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been named as the “principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” and has been held in Guantánamo Bay for the last thirteen years.

Al-Nuaymi, a former president of the Qatar Football Association, is accused of being one of the world’s most prolific terrorist fundraisers, accused of sending more than £1.25 million a month to al-Qaeda Jihadists in Iraq and hundreds of thousands of pounds to Syria.

He was designated a terrorist in the United States last December and has been added to a British sanctions list in October this year.

Intelligence sources say that both men has strong links to senior figures in Qatari government and royal family, links which have helped keep them out of jail and off Qatar’s own nominal terrorist sanctions list.

In order to help mask its support of terrorist groups, Qatar, three years ago, has introduced its own designated terrorist list. To date, not a single individual has been put on it.

The Telegraph reports that a U.S. diplomatic cable sent in May 2008 hinted at a dispute between the Qatari intelligence agencies and the country’s then all-powerful prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani — known as HBJ — over the handling of al-Subaiy, who at the time was serving time in jail after being convicted of terrorist offences in neighboring Bahrain.

In the cable, sent by Michael Ratney then the U.S. chargé d’affaires, ahead of a visit by Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary at the time, he wrote: “HBJ was involved very early on, but to the consternation, we believe, of Qatar’s security agencies.

“If you raise the issue on this visit, it should be limited to thanking the Qataris for their cooperation on the case …

“We believe any more detailed discussion of the case should be done through the Qatari attorney general and intelligence service, and not with HBJ.”

Al-Nuaymi, 60, was praised a decade ago by Qatar’s former emir, who thanked him for introducing the emir to “men of Islamist political thought,” including a sheikh who has been described as a mentor to Osama bin Laden.

The Telegraph further reports that the U.S. treasury believes Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have clamped down on Jihadist financiers since the string of ISIS victories in Iraq last spring, but that Qatar and Kuwait have failed to tackle the issue.

Cohen, who leads the U.S. treasury effort to address Qatar’s and Kuwait’s foot-dragging on the issue, said in his Washington speech that he was “concerned” with “ensuring that people who’ve been designated by the U.S and by the UN are disrupted and unable to continue their fundraising activities.”

Cohen added: “There’s more work to do both in Qatar and Kuwait.

“We have been deeply engaged with both countries for a number of years. We have seen others make really substantial progress in combating terrorist financing.

“And we’re going to continue to work as closely as possible with our partners in the Gulf on this issue.”

Dr. David Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Telegraph that Cohen’s recent speech had “damned Qatar and Kuwait with faint praise.”

He added: “The notion that he would return from meetings in Doha only to declare that Nuaymi and Subaiy are enjoying legal impunity there proves meaningful cooperation behind the scenes is virtually nonexistent.

“It suggests maybe the Qataris are quite happy being a permissive jurisdiction for terrorist finance.

“It may also bear noting that the previous emir of Qatar has reportedly praised Nuaymi as his old friend.

“Arrests, indictments and convictions are only one dimension of whether Qatar is taking the fight against terrorism seriously, but historically it is one of several dimensions in which the [ruling] al-Thani family has miserably failed the test. Doha’s token participation in air strikes against the Islamic State was intended to show that they are on our side in the fight against terror, but these sorts of revelations really put to the test whether Qatar can be considered a reliable friend and ally.”

The current Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, explained Qatar’s approach by saying that “We don’t fund extremists,” but he went on to say: “There are differences between some countries, of who are the terrorists and who are the maybe Islamist groups, but we don’t consider them as terrorists.”

Qatar’s ambivalence about U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria was given expression on Sunday by Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiya, Qatar’s foreign minister. He said that the Middle East’s Sunni population is increasingly viewing the U.S. military campaign as biased against efforts to topple Assad (see Jay Solomon, “Qatari Official Warns on U.S.-Led Airstrikes in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, 17 November 2014).

“If we just keep the campaign limited to airstrikes [against ISIS], then we are helping Assad. The question is who [is] going to fill the vacuum [after ISIS has been defeated]? Is it the regime or the Syrian people who have been suffering the past three-and-a-half years for their freedom and their justice,” Attiya said.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Qatari officials have stressed since the start of the military campaign that Assad’s removal from power was a prerequisite for ending Syria’s civil war.

Other Arab countries have warned the United States that unless the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria was broadened to include the removal of Assad, all the campaign will achieve by weakening or defeating ISIS will be the empowerment of Shi’a Iran by leaving Assad — Iran’s most important regional ally – not only in power, but unchallenged by a viable Sunni force.

As HSNW reported last week (“U.S. new Syria strategy to seek removal of Assad in parallel with defeat of ISIS,” HSNW, 13 November 2014), President Barack Obama’s national security team has been reviewing U.S. policy in Syria after concluding that any meaningful progress in the campaign against ISIS, let alone the defeat of the Islamist organization, may not be achievable without being accompanied by a plan to remove President Bashar al Assad from power.

The reason for the urgent policy review is the recognition by the administration that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take it on in Syria, without at the same time also focusing on the removal of the Assad clan from power, was a miscalculation which has backfired.

As HSNW wrote:

The fundamental problem the United States and its Western allies face is that they appear to be willing to use their military might to defend Iran’s allies — the Shi’a regime in Iraq and the Alawite regime in Syria — at the expense of the Sunni majority in Syria and the substantial Sunni minority in Iraq. That perception prompted thousands of Sunni volunteers from around the world to rush to join ISIS ranks, and has led major regional Sunni countries such as Turkey tacitly to support ISIS campaign (the Qatari government, and wealthy individuals in the Gulf States, have been supporting ISIS not so tacitly). Sunnis in the region also note the U.S. apparent acquiescence to three more developments which have enhanced Iran’s sway and influence in the region: the de facto creation of a Shi’a state-within-state in Lebanon under Hezbollah, the takeover last month of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, by the pro-Iranian Zaydi Shiites from the Houthi clan, and the apparent willingness of the United States to allow Iran to retain a residual nuclear weapons-related capability. The cumulative effect of these developments and perceptions has been to cause the regional Arab anti-ISIS coalition to begin to fray, and calls for formulating a realistic strategy to remove Assad from power to grow louder.