In 2014, the Qatar Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, told Christiane Amanpour, “I know that in America and some countries they look at some movements as terrorist movements. ... But there are differences. There are differences that some countries and some people that any group which comes from Islamic background are terrorists. And we don't accept that.” One of the differences between the U.S. and Qatar, on the issue of what does and does not constitute a terrorist movement, which Qatar “will not accept,” involves the Syrian Al Qaeda branch, Al Nusra. Al Nusra present themselves not only as Wahhabis (like Qatar) but also as the mortal enemy of the Assad regime, a noble cause that Qatar understands as worthy of financial support. In addition, Al Nusra are the enemies of ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group that both Qatar and the West can agree upon. The problem for Qatar, however, is that the U.S. and the U.N. have deemed Al Nusra a terrorist group. Al Nusra existed on the ground in Syria, carrying out terrorist attacks, before ISIS even got there. Senior leaders of Al Nusra were once members of the Islamic State in Iraq. And Al Nusra’s leader, Mohammad al-Jolani, was initially assigned to take advantage of civil war torn Syria by ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. What to do? How to provide massive amounts of cash to Al Nusra without angering the great giant? How to fund Al Nusra and, at the same time, garner world support?
One answer, of course, is financing through Kidnapping for Ransom. What happens is that Al Nusra will kidnap a group of Turkish, Fijian, Lebanese, Syrian, or Italian people, throwing in the occasional American for good measure. Then, friend-to-the-world Qatar will sweep in and pay al Nusra to return the hostages: $150 Million for the Turks, $20 Million for the Fijians, $30 Million for the Lebanese, $16 Million for the Syrians, $15 Million for the Italians, and anywhere between $4-$150 Million for the American. Often the hostages are humanitarian aid workers, nuns, bishops, UN peacekeepers, people especially lauded by the West. Once Sister Christian from the village of Maalulahas has been released, the world erupts in glorious thanks. Through this method, the government of Qatar has been openly funding Al Nusra since, at least, 2013. (Private Qatari citizens have been funding Al Nusra as well). In the latest example, on December 1, 2015, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) put out a press release highlighting the negotiation of their deal between Lebanon and Al Nusra: freeing 17 Lebanese soldiers and 25 Syrian prisoners (the QNA takes careful pains to let us know that 17 of those prisoners were women and children). Qatar, then, boasts of their “achievement of humanitarian and moral principles.” In so doing, Qatar instructs us on how we should respond to their efforts. Apparently growing wise to Western suspicions of foul play, Qatar chose to deny the financial element to their “prisoner swap.” But Al Sharq Al Awsat puts the figure at about $25 Million. And not everyone is buying Qatar’s “great humanitarian” bit with Foreign Affairs going so far as to call the live broadcast prisoner swap a “spectacle,” a “deal with the devil,” and “humiliating” for the Lebanese people because it sends the message that Lebanon is willing to do business with terrorists.
The U.S. government seems wary of investigating the real intentions behind Qatar’s prolific ransom payments. We’ve become so centered on ISIS that Al Nusra must look like small potatoes. And Al Nusra is actively fighting ISIS, which gives them a political advantage. In August of this year former CIA head David Petraeus even went so far as to suggest that the U.S. should support Al Nusra as the only plausible threat to ISIS in Syria. The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Remember when, in 2014, Brett McGurk, a deputy assistant secretary of State, told lawmakers at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that ISIS was “worse than al Qaeda?” No matter how hard the West and Western media try to rebrand Al Nusra as “moderate,” no matter how hard they try to separate Al Nusra from Al Qaeda, Al Nusra is not better than ISIS. Al Nusra, too, murders innocents; they, too, murder hostages; they, too, destroy historical monuments in Syria; they, too, burn people alive; and they, too, wreak havoc on those who do not conform to their world view. They have even begun to release ISIS like videos showing off executions. They are affiliated with the same branch that destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11 making them every bit as dangerous as ISIS. Al Nusra praised the November attacks in Paris. They are not a viable alternative to ISIS. And we cannot keep making the mistake of replacing one terrorist group with another if the ultimate goal is to wipe out terrorism. Being friends with Qatar is absolutely no reason to “bring Al Nusra in from the cold.” But it is time for a governmental investigation into the “moral principles” of our friends who bankroll them.