For most honest analysts, Qatar’s financial and ideological links to terror groups have always been plainly visible. The many millions that the emirate has spent on public relations, lobbying and other types of political warfare in the US, though, have gone a long way to obscure this fact.
A new lawsuit in a New York court might begin to change these perceptions, and finally force Qatar to be held accountable — not just legally and financially, but in American public opinion as well.
The lawsuit accuses the Qatari state of steering money to designated terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad through entities it controls, including Qatar Charity, the Masraf Al-Rayan Bank and the Qatar National Bank. The lawsuit has been filed by attorneys representing the families of Taylor Force, the 28-year-old American West Point graduate murdered by Hamas in 2016, as well as others killed in Israel by the Palestinian terror group.
American victims of terror attacks have long tried to force accountability through legal and legislative channels. Initially, this effort focused on ending rewards for terror. In 2017, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which would halt American aid to the Palestinian Authority until the PA stopped paying stipends to the families of those who were killed committing terrorist attacks. This new lawsuit focuses on penalizing Qatari state entities that make these acts of terrorism possible through direct funding.
An entity controlled by the Qatari royal family, Qatar National Bank, is alleged to have funded terrorism, maintaining accounts for several infamous terrorists directly — not to mention multiple accounts for Union of Good and Qatar Charity, the mechanisms accused of transferring millions to Hamas in order to conduct its terror operations.
Another of the Qatari state-controlled entities mentioned in the lawsuit, Qatar Charity, is a member of Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’s Union of Good, which is, itself, a designated terrorist organization. It was founded in 2001 to support the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in the second intifada, funneling millions to Hamas over the past two decades. Another board member of the Union of Good, Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani, was a longtime Al-Qaeda supporter and Bin Laden loyalist. He was designated a terrorist by the US Treasury Department in 2004.
Interestingly, Al-Zindani’s Islah Party boasts another infamous member in Yemen — Nobel laureate and Islamist activist Tawakkol Karman, who has been selected to adjudicate permissible speech on Facebook, the world’s largest social network. Even as Karman’s links to extremism are clear, and there has been substantial pushback from individuals in the Middle East and the US, Facebook seems to be clinging to Karman.
Karman, whose sister works as an Al-Jazeera producer in Doha, has made pains to exempt Qatar from her harsh criticism of anti-Islamist nations in the region. “Saudi Arabia should be worried,” Karman threatened in a video unearthed recently by Arab News. “All the Gulf countries should be worried (about Islamist uprisings), all except for Qatar.” It is not surprising that, according to terrorism analyst Irina Zuckerman, Qatar is rumored to have “earmarked Karman for $30 million to influence public opinion” in her home country of Yemen.
Spending that kind of money on influence would not be out of character for Qatar. For the past several years, I have written extensively about that country’s efforts to wage political warfare using influence and information operations, specifically in the US. It has presented itself alternately as progressive, Left-allied fighter against imperialism, while also a staunch ally of the US, and a stalwart against extremism and terrorism. To its Arabic audiences, Qatar allies with Islamist movements such as Hamas and the Houthis while attacking Saudi Arabia’s important social reforms as “un-Islamic” and heretical.
This double game has been successful primarily because of the money Qatar spends in building networks of influence. Even without the money it lavishes on Washington lobbyists and the cynical, progressive positioning of its outlets at Al-Jazeera and AJ+, pouring millions into traditional advertising ensures Qatar’s ability to generate favorable press.
Just last week, the Texas-based Qatar-American Institute was forced, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, to disclose both its funding and how it spent the more than $5 million the small group received from its patrons in Doha. As I wrote recently at Newsweek, some of this money lined the pockets of radio host John Fredricks, paying for relentless anti-Saudi, pro-Qatar propaganda throughout the 2017 blockade controversy. This money came in the form of advertising for Fredricks’ show. Why secretly hand him satchels of cash when they can simply buy ads?
If it goes forward, the lawsuit from Taylor Force’s family could pry open the debate about the double game Qatar has been playing, especially in the West.