- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The government of Qatar continues to willfully turn a blind eye to individuals channeling money to al Qaeda-affiliated groups across the Middle East and to Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, despite joining a U.S.-led military coalition battling the militant group, according to a report released Wednesday by a Washington-based think tank.

“Qatar-based terror finance challenges have metastasized into a pressing, world-class crisis,” states the report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warning the flow of money from private individuals in the Persian Gulf nation is likely only to continue without a “serious change in U.S. policy.”

Senior Qatari government officials have denied claims they support the Islamic State and other extremists, asserting the nation has backed moderate groups only, in coordination with the CIA and other Western and Arab intelligence agencies. Qatar’s director of intelligence told the BBC in October the nation had nothing to hide over its support for groups fighting for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But Tuesday’s report maintains such support has included a flow of cash from private individuals in Qatar to the Islamic State and a host of other groups and individuals listed as terrorists by the United States.

“Individuals taking advantage of Qatar’s ‘permissive jurisdiction’ for terror finance have provided funding in recent years to the leaders of [the Islamic State], the Khorasan Group, the Nusra Front (under which Khorasan operates), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and core al Qaeda in Pakistan, to name just a few,” the report says.

The true extent of the Qatari government’s tolerance for such financing has for years been a subject of debate in U.S. national security and intelligence circles — particularly as Washington has appeared to grow its alliance with the nation.

Building on a relationship fostered by his predecessor, George W. Bush, President Obama has pursued close ties with Qatar. In May, the nation was tapped to receive and keep watch over five former high-level Taliban operatives released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of U.S. soldier Bowe Berghdal from captivity in Afghanistan.

More recently, the administration convinced the government of Qatar, a wealthy, natural gas-rich peninsula bordering Saudi Arabia and populated by roughly 2.2 million people, to join a coalition of other Arab nations whose fighter jets have pounded targets of the extremist Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq.

Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base is believed to house a classified U.S. military facility that the Pentagon’s Central Command uses to coordinate bombing and surveillance operations across the Middle East. But Tuesday’s report asserts Qatari cooperation in the fight against terrorists is merely “symbolic.”

The document says “Qatar’s representatives reportedly sat down to negotiate with terrorists from al Qaeda and the Islamic State in September and still seem to be mediating between Lebanon and these groups on its border.”

But Tuesday’s report asserts Qatari cooperation in the fight against terrorists is merely “symbolic.” The document says that Qatar’s representatives reportedly “sat down to negotiate with terrorists from al Qaeda and the Islamic State in September” and still seem to be mediating between Lebanon and these groups on its border.

“Additionally, government officials from both the West and regional countries accuse Doha of handing out ransoms to such organizations to the tune of tens of millions of dollars,” the document states.

An executive summary of the report, which is the first in a three-part series by the Foundation of Defense for Democracies (FDD), says that recent months have brought “considerable focus on Abdulrahman al-Nuaymi, a Qatari national who has been blacklisted by the United States, United Nations, and European Union on charges of financing al Qaeda.”

The FDD document points to evidence indicating that “Nuaymi is still a free man in Qatar, presumably because of his extensive ties to Doha’s ruling elite.”

The report also delves into what it describes as “several other major Qatar-based terror finance cases over the past decade,” in which it says the Qatari government’s “policies fell considerably short of full enforcement, allowing suspected terror financiers to continue their activities after coming under initial scrutiny.”

The report concludes that Qatar’s “mishandling of these cases cannot be attributed to a lack of institutional capacity or societal opposition but instead must be understood as willful negligence on the part of Qatari authorities.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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