Key US Ally Qatar Faces New Terrorist Financing Accusations

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

Steven Sotloff’s family alleged in a federal lawsuit Friday that top Qatari institutions transferred $800,000 to an Islamic State “judge” who ordered the killing of Sotloff and another American journalist, James Foley. The two were beheaded in Syria in 2014, their murders filmed and published in lurid propaganda videos.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure no other family has to suffer what we have suffered,” the Sotloff family said in a statement explaining their lawsuit.

Separately, federal prosecutors have been investigating possible links between the terror groups and Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani, the half-brother of Qatar’s ruling emir, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press and interviews with two people familiar with the investigation. .

A grand jury investigation, conducted by the Southern District of New York, focused in part on whether Khalid Al Thani provided money and supplies to Al Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the two people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were 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 a key role in evacuations from Afghanistan and its huge supplies of natural gas could help sustain Europe’s energy markets amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. Qatar could also play a critical role in President Joe Biden’s attempt to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.

The Qatari embassy said it needed more information before it could comment on the alleged investigation and did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

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

“Qatar is a good friend and a trusted partner,” Biden said in January while hosting Qatar’s ruling emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at the White House.

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

Qatar has said it condemns terrorism, but officials have also admitted their efforts may have helped the wrong people.

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

Lawyers for the Sotloff family said in the lawsuit that Qatari officials “recklessly knew or ignored” the fact that the Islamic State terrorists they were allegedly funding would target Americans to kidnap, torture and murder them.

Foreign countries and government officials generally cannot be sued in US courts. But the US Anti-Terrorism Act allows victims of terrorism to seek damages from private entities connected to governments. Defendants in Sotloff’s lawsuit, Qatar Charity and Qatar National Bank, are alleged to have deliberately facilitated the financing of terrorist groups.

Specifically, the lawsuit says the charity and bank provided $800,000 to Fadel al Salim, who allegedly smuggled into Syria from Turkey and then used it to form an “Islamic State fighter brigade” and become a “judge.” of sharia”.

Sotloff’s complaint says that al Salim signed the “Legal Retribution Verdict” that ordered the deaths of Foley and Sotloff and that he also led a convoy that transported the pair from a prison in Raqqa, Syria, to the city where they were killed.

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

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

Alexanda Kotey was recently sentenced in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to life in prison. El Shafee Elsheikh, who was convicted in a jury trial last month, also faces life in prison when he is sentenced in August.

Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a cell of British militants known to their captors as “the Beatles” because of their accents. They were captured in Syria in 2018 and transferred to the US in 2020 for criminal prosecution after Attorney General William Barr agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

Another militant, Mohammed 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 propaganda videos released by IS in 2014, while Kayla Mueller was tortured and raped by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before being killed. The hostage-taking also resulted in the killing of British and Japanese captives, authorities said.

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

Sotloff’s lawsuit, filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, does not disclose how the information in the complaint was obtained. But it does include a high level of detail, such as a specific bank account number, passages from a handwritten statement acknowledging payments, and Islamic State court records.

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

Similar accusations of prominent Qataris financing terrorist groups have been made in two ongoing lawsuits filed in London on behalf of Syrian refugees.

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

“This is realpolitik in action,” he said.

One of the London lawsuits alleges that Qatar National Bank board members made hawala payments, an informal money transfer system, directly to Al Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Those include transfers, according to the lawsuit, from the emir’s half-brother, Khalid Al Thani. He was previously a member of the board of the Qatar National Bank.

It’s unclear if those payments are part of the grand jury investigation involving Khalid Al-Thani, which is at least a year old. Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.


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

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