Qatar has once again been accused of sponsoring terrorism. A lawsuit filed through the British judiciary alleges that Doha injected hundreds of millions of dollars into the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front, in a money-laundering operation, The Times revealed on Friday.
Nine Syrian nationals are suing senior members of the Qatari state in the High Court in London for criminal damage, according to the newspaper. The plaintiffs have alleged that each of them took part in an alleged conspiracy hatched within Qatari institutions and in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood, the newspaper reports.
The money laundering was allegedly carried out through large construction contracts and overpayments to foreign workers from Syria. The funds were transferred from the bank accounts of Qatari companies and charities directly to Syria or sometimes through Turkish entities that filtered the money across the border.
According to The Times, the operation was run by the private engineering office of Amiri Diwan's government body. This institution receives direct instructions from the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Zani, evidence that reveals its leading role in the scheme.
In this regard, the plaintiffs include in the indictment that the transfer of assets had the cooperation of the Islamist organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that meetings took place on Turkish soil between Qatari actors and representatives of various jihadist groups operating in Syria with the aim of boosting operations, the newspaper reports.
The extensive list of defendants includes charities, businessmen, civil servants and politicians. The latter category includes former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani and the owner of London's Ritz Hotel, Abdulhadi Mana Al Hajri. However, their legal representatives have rejected the allegations outright, claiming that they are "without merit".
Those named in the lawsuit also include two banking institutions: Qatar National Bank (QNB), the official sponsor of the upcoming Qatar 2022 World Cup, and Doha Bank. The Times states that both entities "knew or should have known that they were being used to transfer funds to terrorists". In any case, if they were not aware of the scheme, the newspaper notes that they also broke the law by failing to monitor their accounts. Both banks were quick to deny this.
The lawsuit filed by the nine Syrian nationals has highlighted the international community's suspicions about Qatari funding of terrorist groups. The Al-Nusra Front, considered to be the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is designated as "terrorist" by the United Nations Security Council, the United States and the United Kingdom, where it is under investigation.
The lawsuit contains a claim for compensation made by the prosecution. According to the British newspaper, the nine Syrian nationals claimed to have suffered heavy economic losses or to have been victims of torture, arbitrary detention, threats of execution "and other forms of persecution committed by the Al-Nusra Front".
The Qatari authorities were quick to react to the publication of the information. In a press release, the government communications office said the article was "based on misleading claims, factual inaccuracies and bias", and that other media outlets "were shown the same falsified information, but refused to publish it after determining that it had no factual basis". They further charged that the journalist who wrote the report, Andrew Norfolk, had promoted Islamophobia.
"Qatar has laws and systems in place to combat and prevent the financing of terrorism and has been recognised as a leader in these efforts. (...) Qatar is absolutely committed to these comprehensive efforts to ensure that terrorism is not financed anywhere. To this end, Qatar will continue to work with the UK and other international partners in the fight against global terrorism, undeterred by those who seek to divide us," the statement said.
However, Qatar has in recent years funded extremist groups and terrorist organisations operating in the Middle East in defence of its interests. Doha has financially and militarily supported Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria with the aim of destabilising their rivals and gaining relevance in the region. Moreover, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas leaders have settled on Qatari soil with the acquiescence of the authorities.
This led its Gulf neighbours to impose a veto on the emirate in 2017, a political and economic blockade that ended after the Al-Ula summit in January. The Al-Ula Declaration laid the groundwork for the rebuilding of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt with Qatar, although their collaboration with like-minded terrorist organisations seems to be perpetuated.