Qatar, a crucial US partner, is now being accused of sponsoring terrorism.
In a lawsuit filed by the relatives of a dead American journalist and a separate federal inquiry against a member of the country’s royal family, Qatar, a key US ally in the Persian Gulf, is facing heightened scrutiny over its suspected financial ties to terrorism.
In a federal lawsuit filed on Friday, the family of Steven Sotloff claimed that significant Qatari institutions transferred $800,000 to an Islamic State “judge” who ordered the assassination of Sotloff and another American journalist, James Foley. In 2014, the two were beheaded in Syria, and their executions were filmed and broadcast in graphic propaganda videos.
In a statement detailing their case, the Sotloff family said, “We want to do everything we can to make sure no other family has to go through what we have gone through.”
Separately, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and conversations with two people involved with the inquiry, federal prosecutors are looking into possible ties between terror groups and Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani, Qatar’s ruling emir’s half-brother.
According to the two persons, a grand jury investigation based in the Southern District of New York is looking into whether Khalid Al Thani contributed money and supplies to Al Nusra, al-Syrian Qaeda’s branch. Because they were not authorized to discuss the topic publicly, they talked on the condition of anonymity.
The Biden administration maintains a close relationship with Qatar. The world’s wealthiest country per capita was instrumental in the evacuation of Afghans, and its vast natural gas reserves could help Europe’s energy markets survive Russia’s war in Ukraine. Qatar might also play a key role in President Joe Biden’s efforts to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal.
The Qatari Embassy said it wanted more information before commenting on the alleged probe and declined to comment on the lawsuit right away.
Biden identified Qatar as a key non-NATO friend earlier this year, a step that might help the country obtain US permission for a more than $500 million sale of MQ-9 Reaper drones. Qatar is home to the Gulf’s largest US Air Force installation.
In January, while hosting Qatar’s reigning emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at the White House, Biden declared, “Qatar is a good friend and a trusted partner.”
However, Qatar, which was one of the most ardent international supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s uprising, has long been chastised by some US officials for allowing or encouraging the funding of extremist groups in Syria, as well as its direct and indirect support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
Although Qatar has condemned terrorism, officials have admitted that their actions may have aided the wrong people.
In a 2017 interview with American journalist Charlie Rose, Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, Qatar’s former prime minister and foreign minister, remarked, “Look, everyone made mistakes in Syria, including your country.” He went on to say that Qatar had never backed terrorist groups in Syria on purpose and had cut off funding to any group it discovered had a different “agenda.”
In the complaint, lawyers for the Sotloff family said that Qatari officials “knew or recklessly ignored” the fact that the Islamic State terrorists they were allegedly sponsoring would kidnap, torture, and murder Americans.
In most cases, foreign countries and government leaders cannot be sued in US courts. The US Anti-Terrorism Act, on the other hand, allows terror victims to sue commercial corporations linked to governments for damages. The defendants in the Sotloff case, Qatar Charity and Qatar National Bank, are accused of intentionally facilitating funds to terrorist organizations.
According to the lawsuit, Fadel al Salim received $800,000 from the charity and the bank, which he reportedly smuggled into Syria from Turkey and used to organize a “brigade of Islamic State warriors” and become a “sharia judge.”
Al Salim signed the “Legal Retribution Verdict” ordering Foley and Sotloff’s killings, according to the Sotloff complaint, and led a convoy that brought the two from a jail in Raqqa, Syria, to the town where they were killed.
Qatar Charity and Qatar National Bank representatives did not immediately reply to calls for comment.
Al Salim’s present location are unknown. Separate prosecution cases against two of the British Islamic State terrorists involved for the killings of Sotloff and three other American hostages have made substantial progress.
Alexanda Kotey was recently sentenced to life in prison in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. El Shafee Elsheikh, who was convicted in a jury trial last month, will be sentenced in August and faces life in jail.
Because of their accents, Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a cell of British militants dubbed “the Beatles” by their captors. They were apprehended in Syria in 2018 and brought to the United States in 2020 for criminal trial after Attorney General William Barr agreed to drop the death penalty.
Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John,” was killed in a US drone attack in 2015, while a fourth jihadist was apprehended in Turkey.
In 2014, IS published propaganda movies in which Sotloff, Foley, and Peter Kassig were decapitated, while Kayla Mueller was tortured and raped by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before being executed. According to officials, the hostage-taking resulted in the deaths of British and Japanese hostages.
At the Kotey sentencing hearing, mother Shirley Sotloff remarked, “We are permanently broken by the murder of our beautiful boy, and characterized as individuals from a horror movie.”
The Sotloff case, which was filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, doesn’t say how the material in the complaint came to be. However, it contains a great deal of information, such as a bank account number, sections from a handwritten declaration recognizing payments, and Islamic State judicial documents.
The lawsuit also claims that members of the Qatari royal family and government collaborated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkish intelligence to fund extremist groups in Syria in order to undermine the Assad regime.
Two continuing cases brought on behalf of Syrian refugees in London make similar allegations of prominent Qataris sponsoring terrorist organisations.
According to Ben Emmerson, a London-based lawyer representing the refugees, there is overwhelming evidence that American officials have decided to ignore Qatar’s terror financing in Syria since the US requires Qatar’s assistance in other areas.
He described it as “realpolitik in action.”
According to one of the London lawsuits, Qatar National Bank board members sent hawala payments (an irregular money transfer channel) straight to Al Nusra, al-Syria Qaeda’s branch. According to the lawsuit, transfers by the emir’s half-brother, Khalid Al Thani, are among them. He previously served on the Qatar National Bank’s board of directors.
It’s unclear whether those payments are related to the grand jury investigation into Khalid Al-Thani, which has been ongoing for at least a year. The Southern District of New York’s prosecutors declined to comment.