Clifford Smith, director of the Middle East Forum's Washington Project, interviewed Martha Lee of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch Project, Abhinav Pandya of the India-based Usanas Foundation, and Jordan Cope, Qatari finance fellow at the Middle East Forum and director of policy education at StandWithUs, in a January 21 Middle East Forum Webinar (video). The trio of researchers discussed the results of their investigation into a large cache of documents obtained by the Middle East Forum that exposed the Sheik Eid bin Muhammad Al Thani Charitable Association, a Qatari semi-government organization also known as the Eid Charity, as a funder of global terror.
Lee pointed out that Eid Charity has been described as a "semi-governmental organization" by Qatar, noting "there's really little doubt that [Eid Charity and Qatar] seem to be working hand in hand in that Eid's projects are certainly not independent from Qatari policies." The Eid Charity project distributes global grants mostly to organizations connected to "either lawful Islamist or even Islamist terror organizations," which "does indicate a clear pattern of support for extremism."
Qatar has helped disguise its funding for Islamist and terrorist organizations as humanitarian relief.
Cope identified documents detailing the Al Ihsan Charitable Society's head as reportedly being a former member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Ihsan received $17.8 million from the Eid Charity, with millions more granted to an affiliate "reported to have provided material support for Al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen and Saudi Arabia." The Turkish Islamist organization IHH, designated a foreign terror organization (FTO) "in certain parts of the world," received $23.3 million. Hamas, also an FTO, along with its affiliates, received significant funding. Cope said that it is "evident throughout the receipts" he helped translate that "Qatar has helped disguise its funding for Islamist and terrorist organizations as humanitarian relief."
Qatari Ambassador Mohamed al Emadi, who heads the state-run Qatar Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, met with members of the FTO Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Cope pointed out that PIJ is known for its refusal to "engage in the political process" and has no "humanitarian efforts." Cope's investigation of the cache of documents revealed Qatar's excuse of "using charity and relations with Hamas and other terrorist organizations as a means of serving as an intermediary in the region" is a lie. Both its funding and political beliefs "endorse Islamist ideologies [and] terrorist organizations."
Smith noted that Qatar's "national creed" is Wahhabism, a strict version of Salafism. Qatar is "increasingly aligned with Pakistan and thus de facto in opposition to India's interests." Pandya's research found that in over 1,200 transactions to Eid Charity since 2008, donations to India totaling QR28.49 million (Qatari Rials) or $7.82 million U.S. dollars was transferred to eight Salafi Islamist organizations in India. The largest transaction – $4.9 million – was through the Salafi Philanthropy Society, based in the Muslim-majority state of Kerala on India's coast. Pandya stressed that Kerala is the state that "sent the highest number of foreign fighters to ISIS from India," and that it has witnessed "a very strong onslaught of Wahhabi extremist influence" over the past several decades because many Indian-born expatriates who work in heavily Wahhabi Gulf countries bring extremist beliefs home with them when they return.
Lee said that Europe received "only a small portion" of the Eid Charity funding, but she revealed that Qatar funds Islamic centers there, and that "in all these different European countries we looked at, mosque after mosque was directly tied to either ISIS or al-Qaeda." The imam of a Swedish mosque, for example, "applauded ISIS for taking over the Iraqi city of Mosul" and encouraged followers to finance ISIS. She said that while there isn't sufficient information to know if Qatar is "directly supporting ISIS," it's "undeniable" that it is "supporting extremism throughout Europe." Its ties to ISIS and Al-Qaeda "can directly lead to people being radicalized and eventually to terrorist attacks."
Lee: Qatar has clearly replaced Saudi as the main funding source for Islamist extremism.
The Saudis supported such radicalization for many years, and although some lawmakers still see the Saudis as a threat, Smith and Lee said Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has significantly reduced the kingdom's funding of radicalism abroad. According to Lee, their new research demonstrates that "Qatar has clearly replaced Saudi as the main funding source for Islamist extremism." "Future policies," she added, "need to take that into account."
Cope added that U.S. politicians, "secretaries of state in particular," engage with Qatar because "we trust Qatar to provide us with a military safe haven in the Al Udeid airbase." He said Qatar reportedly hosted the 9/11 mastermind, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), in the 1990s, and it was rumored that Qatar aided KSM's escape to Pakistan "when the U.S. was closing in" on him. Cope believes the U.S. should re-evaluate whether its relationship with the regime is worthwhile, given the "security threat" Qatar poses to America. "Qatar is not a real ally," he said, because they "continue to fund terrorist . . . and Islamist organizations throughout the region that threaten American security."
Given the complexity of relations between Qatar and the U.S., Cope said the most effective way to tackle the problem was "educating" members of Congress about "the dangers the Qatari regime poses to U.S. interests, including its funding of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in Egypt, Yemen, and "throughout North Africa and the Middle East." "Qatar portrays itself as this patron of arts, of the sports, of modernity," he added. But "it's still funding radical ideologies," and its charades "are simply smoke machines designed to disguise what its true ideologies are, which are Islamist in nature." At the end of the day, Cope concluded, "we have to continue balancing the benefits of Qatar's incentives and understanding the security threats. And the security threats are very real."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.