Foreign Policy

The US must pressure Qatar to crack down on terrorism

On June 5, 2017, seven countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen – announced that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar because of the country’s support for terrorist and extremist groups in the region. In breaking ties, Saudi Arabia announced that it was working to “protect national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” Bahrain and others similarly cited national security concerns and Qatar’s destabilizing activities in the region.

The announcement surprised many across the world, but the decision was the result of Qatar’s long history of dangerous policies and reckless actions. The Counter Extremism Project has outlined Qatar’s troubling behavior in a series of studies that have exposed the country’s well-documented record of supporting and harboring international terrorist organizations and individuals.

{mosads}The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has appropriately labeled Qatar a “safe haven for religious extremists expelled by other countries.”  David Andrew Weinberg of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has accused Qatar of showing “one face to the international community projecting a desire to help in the fight against terrorist organizations, while providing a platform for the preaching in their own backyard of the same kind of hate-filled extremism of ISIS.”  Weinberg points to a stream of Islamist imams who have addressed Qatari mosques with government support.


Qatar – a longtime U.S. ally and member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS – has lent support to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)Hamas,the Muslim Brotherhood, the Nusra Front and the Taliban, including through direct money loans, ransom payments and supply transfers.  Qatar is also currently harboring at least 12 sanction-designated or wanted individuals. Although these individuals have been publicly sanctioned by the United States or United Nations, or are the subject of INTERPOL arrest warrants, they are able to live and operate with impunity – and in some cases luxuriously – within Qatar.

The United States has accused Qatar of providing financial and material support to extremist and terrorist groups. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Qatar has “openly financed” Hamas, whose political leadership is also based in Qatar.  In a March 2014 address, U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said Qatar “has become such a permissive terrorist financing environment, that several major Qatar-based fundraisers act as local representatives for larger terrorist fundraising networks that are based in Kuwait.” 

Nonetheless, the United States and Qatar maintain close military ties. Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, which includes the U.S. Central Command from which U.S. anti-ISIS missions are primarily conducted.  Qatar also maintains close ties with the United States in global counterterrorism operations. 

Perhaps it is due to these close military ties that the United States under previous administrations has failed to hold Qatar accountable for its troubling behavior.  However, as our country faces increasingly dangerous national security threats from terrorism and extremism, we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to Qatar’s inaction. The United States must do more to pressure Qatar to act against extremism within its borders.

Specifically, the United States must incentivize Doha to arrest or expel all wanted and internationally-designated individuals inside its borders, including all members of the Hamas and Taliban delegations currently domiciled inside Qatar.  Additionally, Qatar must halt all direct support – financial, material and strategic – to internationally designated terrorist organizations.  This includes an end to all ransom payments to terrorist organizations abroad. Qatar must also be incentivized to draft, publicize and maintain a list of designated terrorist entities and submit designated entities to the ramifications outlined in Qatar’s existing counterterrorism legislation.

To combat terrorism and terrorist financing, Qatar will need to fully enforce its own counterterrorism policies. Qatar would also do well to bolster its existing counterterrorism framework, including by designing, maintaining and publicizing its own terrorist-designation system.

The United States should recognize that pressuring Qatar to adopt this political will – and make any strides to its existing framework – is paramount to a strong and effective counterterrorism strategy.  Inaction is no longer an option and the Trump Administration must do everything within its power to pressure Qatar to start acting like a responsible ally and cease its support for extremism.

David Ibsen is Executive Director for the Counter Extremism Project, which works to combat the growing threat of extremism and extremist ideology. The group seeks to put pressure on financial and material support networks; counter the narrative of extremists and their online recruitment; and push for smart laws, policies, and regulations.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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