Qatar Charity (QC) is in the spotlight on a weekly basis for its prolific humanitarian initiatives, which are heavily promoted online thanks to almost real time updates on its website and by a number of other sources following the activity of today’s largest Qatari NGO. Founded in 1992 and currently led by Sheikh Hamad bin Nasser al-Thani, Qatar Charity has purportedly striven to make a difference in the lives of the needy both in Qatar and worldwide, through investments and humanitarian aid including disaster relief, health care, education, social care, infrastructure, and culture. To mention only a few of the charity’s most recent efforts, QC announced last week that it had successfully provided medicine and medical equipment worth QR 4 million to the Palestinian Health Ministry warehouses, launched a new initiative to strengthen Islamic culture worldwide, distributed eight ambulances to Syrian hospitals and food baskets to 6,050 families in Yemen. There is, however, another side to this story. Indeed, if one examines the various court cases and financial investigations that target the charity, as well as videos and statements more or less directly related to its activity, it appears that Qatar Charity’s reputation as a “terrorism support entity” is entirely justified.
Concerns about Qatari funding of extremism - the Muslim Brotherhood in particular - through subsidiary activities in Libya and Sudan were voiced early this year. At an event organized in March 2015 by the United States Institute for Peace during the official visit of Tahir el-Faki, the representative of the Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement, to Washington DC, attendees from the global intelligence community raised questions about reports suggesting that the Sudanese President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir was hosting Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS training camps in Darfur.
Although the rumor has not yet been confirmed by official sources, Sudan Tribune reported on February 11, 2015 the controversial statements by an official of the Minni Minnawi liberation movement named Yahia Sadam, who denounced Qatar’s financial support of the systematic genocide perpetrated by the Sudanese militiamen in Darfur allegedly channeled through Qatar Charity. The official declared that the charity, which has been active in Darfur since 2010, is “building housing complexes in remote and isolated areas to harbor and train extremist groups.” Sadam substantiated his claim with evidence of a cooperation agreement between Qatar Charity and the Sudanese troops. The director of the QC Darfur project is purported to be living with the Sudanese army inside the barracks in Nyala. Furthermore, the official’s claim that the director is working with militiamen to prepare the ground for the establishment of training camps in the region has been confirmed by another rebel group, SLM-Abdel Wahid al-Nur.
Unfortunately, none of this is surprising given Qatar Charity’s long-standing ties to terrorist groups and their sponsors. Israel blacklisted it in 2011, but irrefutable evidence of the charity’s partnership with al-Qaeda traces back to 1993. Osama bin Laden himself mentioned Qatar Charity as one of the preferred channels to gather money for overseas terrorist operations. Bin Laden’s former business agent, Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, who testified on February 6, 2001 in a criminal trial after defecting to the U.S. in 1996, declared that he personally cooperated with Abdullah Mohammed Yusef, the charity’s leader at that time. Yusef – al-Fadl claimed –supported the movement of al-Qaeda’s fighters from the Gulf area to Darfur, contributed financially to some of al-Qaeda’s operations, and was also affiliated with the National Islamic Front, a Sudanese group with strong ties to Bin Laden.
The Charity cooperated with al-Qaeda in other arenas as well. In 1998 Qatar Charity was named as a major financial conduit for al-Qaeda in judicial proceedings following the attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 1999, Russia’s interior ministry accused Qatar Charitable Society - as Qatar Charity was originally known - of funneling money from Qatar to radical Chechen al-Qaeda groups. The charity is also thought to have supported Qaedist operations in Northern Mali and to be heavily involved in Syria.
According to the report published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy analysts Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Aaron Y. Zelin, Qatar Charity recently assisted the Syrian Islamic Front, a prominent actor among the jihadi forces opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The logo of the charity appeared in a video in which some affiliates of the Syrian Islamic Front were distributing Qatar Charity-branded aid material to Syrian civilians. In addition, in June 2013 the Iranian news agency FARS quoted a diplomat pointing out that Qatar had funneled $5 billion to Syrian rebels through the Charity, of which $3 billion was disposed by the rebels under Qatar’s direct supervision.
In 2003 Matthew Epstein and Evan Kohlmann declared in congressional testimony that “by liquidating Charity bank accounts into untraceable cash withdrawals in war-torn states (often with no reliable banking systems), QCS [Qatar Charitable Society] was able to make this money simply disappear.” However, no subterfuge will allow either the charity or the Qatari government to hide evidence collected over the past ten years that irrefutably proves Qatar Charity’s key role in financing extremist terrorism worldwide.