Qatari Ambassador Plays Semantics With Definition of Terrorism
Hamas is not a terrorist organization and his country has nothing to do with terrorism, Qatari counterterrorism envoy Ambassador Mutlaq Al-Qahtani told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). But that all depends on your definition of terrorism.
Al-Qahtani spoke on April 9 at the National Press Club at an event sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), a group that works to undermine the appeal of ISIS using counter-messaging videos.
“Qatar has not, does not, and will never support terrorism in any form,” Al-Qahtani said.
Terrorism is a subjective term, he said, and there is no globally-accepted definition. Qatar views Hamas as a “legitimate political force and governing party,” ICSVE founder Anne Speckhard wrote on her group’s website in January. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, told CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour in 2014 that Hamas is not a terrorist group because it is “a very important component of the Palestinian people.”
Qatar has been a stalwart supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood for decades, especially since the 2011 Arab Spring. This support alienated Qatar from its neighbors and led to the decision last June by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to impose a land, sea, and air blockade of Qatar. They issued a list of 59 terror-linked people and 12 allegedly terror-linked groups that they claimed Qatar supported. The blockade would continue, the three Gulf states said, until Qatar took action against the terrorists. Many of the people listed are also blacklisted by the US government and the United Nations.
Ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood was among the 13 demands that Qatar’s Gulf neighbors imposed on it, as was Qatar taking action against the people on the Gulf states’ terror list.
Al-Qahtani seemed to say the Brotherhood was being targeted solely because it is an opposition group. Opposition parties often are unfairly tarred with the terrorist label, Al-Qahtani said. He vigorously argued that the Muslim Brotherhood likewise faced unjust accusations of being connected with terrorism in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“I think the most important [thing] for anybody if you want to make a good argument against any country to classify this entity or that individual as a terrorist is try to make sure that the Security Council of the United Nations sanctions that individual or that entity,” Al-Qahtani said. Since that has not happened, “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.”
Yet Qatar’s “explanation for Hamas not being a terrorist organization is distinctly unimpressive and inconsistent,” terrorism researcher Kyle Orton told the IPT.
Hamas became famous for sending suicide bombers to blow up Israeli civilians, the most recent incident being a 2016 attack on a bus in Jerusalem. It also encouraged stabbing attacks against Israelis in the fall of 2015. Rocket attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilian targets have been commonplace. Additionally, Hamas has praised car-ramming attacks against Israelis.
Al-Qahtani questioned the Gulf states’ standing to accuse others of supporting terrorism, saying that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have terrorism records “worse than ever.” He cited a connection between Bahrain’s royal family and ISIS’s late top religious scholar, Turki Binali, and Egypt’s blocking of the addition of ISIS affiliates in several countries to the UN’s terror list as examples. His list also included findings by the Henry Jackson Society last year that Saudi interests funded Islamist extremists in the UK. However, he omitted that the report also pointed the finger at Qatar. The 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, he said, adding that some of their funding came through the UAE.
Yet some of Al-Qahtani’s remarks connecting Saudi Arabia with 9/11 weren’t accurate, Orton said.
“One of al-Qaeda’s founding missions is to overthrow the House of Saud. That these people were originally Saudi citizens is really irrelevant,” Orton said via Twitter.
Al-Qahtani also failed to mention Qatar’s own connection to 9/11.
Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant Khaled Sheikh Mohammed took a Qatari government job at the suggestion of Qatar’s current interior minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani, the 9/11 Commission found. US intelligence officials also said al-Thani helped Mohammed escape from Qatar in 1996 before American authorities could capture him. Bin Laden personally visited al-Thani in Qatar several times between 1996 and 2000. Bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States was issued in 1998.
Qatar’s interior ministry published a list of terror financiers it sanctioned in March in response to pressure from its neighbors, but the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted that groups like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda were conspicuously absent. Two Al Qaeda-linked financiers with ties to Qatar’s government also were not included.
Not only does Qatar reject the idea that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but the country provided significant support to the group. Hamas’ top leaders lived in Doha until last June when “external pressures” forced their expulsion following the announcement of the blockade. As recently as 2015, Qatar’s foreign minister described then-Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal as a “dear guest.” But Qatar no longer funds Hamas, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told Congress in December.
Qatar previously pumped millions of dollars into Hamas’ government infrastructure in Gaza. Qatar claimed that it routed the money through the United Nations, but Israeli press reports indicate that Qatar agreed to directly fund the construction of a new Hamas government building.
Yet even if Qatar has backed off funding Hamas, it remains a major source of anti-Israel terrorist incitement. The ADL complained on April 10 that Qatar is a hotbed of antisemitic rhetoric. For example, the imam of Doha’s state-run primary mosque in December called Jews “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” in a sermon called the “Liberation of Al-Aqsa.”
Al-Qahtani rejected the charge of religious extremism.
“[Extremist] religious doctrines pose an undeniable challenge to all of us. They exist in every culture and Islam has no monopoly on them. If actors continue to twist religious doctrines to poison the minds of desperate people in our region and beyond, it’s clear that we are obliged to fight the compact religious extremism,” Al-Qahtani said.
Yet for decades, Qatar’s royal family gave Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi a platform for his hate-filled pro-terrorist ideas. Qaradawi considers non-violent definitions of jihad as “unacceptable,” a belief that he shares with Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna.
Jihad, when defined as a spiritual struggle, diminishes “Jihad in the Way of Allah, and play[s] down its status and virtues in Islam, and its necessity in defending the being of the Ummah (Muslim nation) and its holy sites if attacked by aggressors and affected by arrogant tyrants,” Qaradawi wrote in a 2016 article.
Qaradawi also preached support for suicide bombings and hatred of Jews for years on Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera network.
The Holocaust “was divine punishment for [the Jews]. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers,” Qaradawi said in a 2009 Al Jazeera broadcast.
He also sanctioned attacks against US troops in Iraq. In 2014, Qaradawi expanded his fatwa supporting suicide bombings to include Syrians. He dialed back his support for Palestinian suicide bombings in 2016, saying that Palestinians could use rockets to attack Israel instead.
“Suicide bombing has been normalised in a way it could not have been without the support of someone with Al-Qaradawi’s stature,” the UAE-based National newspaper said in November.
After President Trump announced that the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Qaradawi called for jihad and hurled antisemitic insults.
“The Quran does not devote as much space to the Persians and Romans as it does to the Jews, whose crimes and depraved deeds it exposes. They are the greatest of liars when they speak, the greatest of villains when they quarrel, and the most treacherous of people when they make pacts,” Qaradawi wrote on Twitter, a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) shows.
Qaradawi’s International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) also issued a communiqué in October calling for the end of Qatar’s isolation and reaffirming the “importance of armed struggle and resistance in all its forms to liberate Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is an IUMS member.
Qatar also reportedly used an associate of Qaradawi’s as a conduit to coordinate the flow of Qatari arms and money to Al Qaeda-linked rebels belonging to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
Qaradawi and IUMS Secretary General Ali Mohiuddin Qaradaghi have close ties with terror-linked charities connected with Qatar’s royal family. These include Qatar Charity and the Sheikh Eid al-Thani Charity. Qatar’s Gulf neighbors placed both on their list of terror-connected groups.
Qatar Charity, formerly the Qatar Charitable Society, belongs to Qaradawi’s Union of Good, a global alliance of Islamic charities in 21 countries that facilitates financial transfers between its members. US Treasury officials blacklisted the organization in 2008, describing it as a “broker for Hamas.”
US court documents showed that Osama bin Laden used Qatar Charity as a terror-funding source during the 1990s. The Qatar Charitable Society helped finance the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according to the US government.
Reports suggest these connections persist. Maliweb reported that Qatar Charity funded terrorists belonging to the Al Qaeda linked group Ansar Dine in 2013, a claim corroborated by the French intelligence service. The other Gulf states also accuse Qatar Charity of assisting the AQAP terror group in Yemen.
Al-Qahtani downplayed Qaradawi’s continued presence in Qatar and how it affects the country’s “soft-power approach to terrorism” — the subject of the April 9 conference. Qaradawi “is quite old. His health is not that good” and his Al-Jazeera program went off the air years ago, Al-Qahtani said.
All of these pieces of evidence show that Qatar’s approach to terrorism is confused at best. Standing with ICSVE against ISIS is one thing, but terrorism is more than just ISIS.
John Rossomando is a national security reporter focusing on jihadism and Islamism.