When Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain decided to break diplomatic relations with Qatar over its support for jihadi terrorist groups last month, my first reaction was, what took them so long?
In January 1998, I was in London reporting a story for Reader’s Digest on a then-obscure Saudi financier of terrorism named Osama Bin Laden. I spoke with a variety of his supporters, including a portly young Kuwaiti named Khaled al Fawwaz, and a bizarre Syrian preacher who hung out near the Finsbury mosque, Omar Bakri Mohammad.
In the years since the 9/11 attacks, both men were identified as kingpins in Bin Laden’s international recruiting network. Fawwaz was convicted in 2015 in the United States on terrorism-related charges. Omar Bakri returned to Syria and since has disappeared.
But what I learned at the time was that Bin Laden’s front organization was receiving direct payments from the Embassy of Qatar in London, and that British and Saudi intelligence were tracking the payments.
Remember, this is January 1998. When my article on Bin Laden finally appeared in late June in Reader’s Digest, we couldn’t even find a publicly-available photograph of the Saudi terrorist and had to use a sketch artist. Just three weeks later, after the al Qaeda bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, he became a household name.
Why the U.S. government does not focus on that in its investigation of the 9/11 attacks on America remains a mystery to me.
Fast forward to 2011 and the fight to oust Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The Qataris were not just supporting opposition groups with air-dropped weapons and logistics: They had their own special forces on the ground, recruiting and training jihadis.
At first, the Qataris conducted training far from the battlefront in the western mountains near Nalut, according to Foreign Policy. Later, they openly set up training camps for the Tripoli Military Council led by Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who delivered US. weapons “into the hands of al Qaeda central,” a former CIA operative told me.
As I reported in my 2014 book, “Dark Forces: the Truth About What Happened in Benghazi,” the Qataris were working on the ground in Benghazi with undercover operatives from Iran’s Quds Force who were responsible for recruiting, training, and directing the militia used to carry out the Benghazi attacks.
The Qataris became so unpopular because of their support for the jihadis that ultimately wrecked Libya that Qatar Airways was forced to suspend all flights to Benghazi in August 2013. When they tried to resume them two months later, angry crowds demonstrated in front of Qatari offices, demanding the Qataris go home.
But it was Qatar’s continued support for the Muslim Brotherhood even after they were utterly defeated in Egypt in 2012, and their support for the most radical of Islamist groups in Syria — al Qaeda, al Nusra, and their surrogates — that prompted Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to put pressure on Qatar to back off in 2013.
In a series of agreements whose explosive details were revealed earlier this month, the Saudis and their allies demanded that Qatar stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, stop subverting the government of General Al-Sissi in Egypt, stop supporting jihadi groups in Syria, and stop supporting rebel groups in Yemen that threatened neighboring countries.
They also demanded that Qatar muzzle al Jazeera, which had become the bullhorn for jihadi preachers such as Mohammad al-Qaradawi and others, who rallied support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
For nearly four years, the Qataris openly and repeatedly violated that agreement. Finally, in June, the Saudis and their allies had had enough.
As long as Obama was in power, the Qataris felt they could rely on Washington to support their cause, since Obama and his top advisors all favored the Muslim Brotherhood and supported arms shipments to radical Sunni groups in Syria that later morphed into ISIS.
Just days after the diplomatic breach in June, a former top advisor to President Obama tweeted out his support for the Qataris, another sign of the disastrous pro-Muslim Brotherhood policies of the previous administration.
Now the Qataris are trying to use the massive U.S. airbase outside Doha as leverage against the United States. The Al-Udaid base has become the hub of air operations for U.S. Central Command in the war against ISIS throughout the region.
It’s time for the Trump administration to do what candidate Trump did so well during the campaign: Speak the truth about the deviousness of Qatar’s rulers and their support for radical jihadi groups who seek to export terror to Europe and America.
It’s also time to put teeth into our anti-terrorism policies by relocating the U.S. airbase in Qatar to friendlier territory, such as the United Arab Emirates. And while we’re at it, we should also move the Incirlik base in Turkey — a staunch ally of Qatar and increasingly hostile to interests of the U.S. and our allies — to Iraqi Kurdistan.
U.S. bases in the UAE and Kurdistan would promote long-term stability in the region and remove our forces from the clutches of anti-American regimes. Yes, it would cost U.S. taxpayers in the short run. But in the long run, it would enhance of security posture in the region and save American lives.
Kenneth R. Timmerman was the 2012 Republican congressional nominee for Maryland’s 8th District and is the author of “Deception: The Making of the YouTube Video Hillary & Obama Blamed for Benghazi,” published by Post Hill Press.
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