Since Sheikh Tamim al-Thani met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in early 2015, Qatar has been striving to give the appearance that it is taking action against the fundraising entities based within its borders and whose mission is to provide financial backing to terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. The U.S. authorities initially approved Qatar’s recent effort to provide a less “permissive terrorist financing environment”, as US Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen had described it. However, the Gulf State’s image in the international security community took a severe blow last August 5, when the U.S. Treasury officially designated two Qatari nationals as “major facilitators of the al-Nusrah Front and al-Qaida”, and placed them under U.S. sanctions.
Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Shariyan Al Ka’bi (“Al-Kabi”) was pinpointed for his raising money for the al-Nusrah front, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, Al-Kabi contributed significantly to the development of the Madad Ahl Al Sham website, which funneled donations collected throughout the Gulf region to the terrorist group’s fighters in Syria. Moreover, Al-Kabi acted as an intermediary for the collection of ransoms in exchange for hostages held captive by the al-Nusrah front.
Also designated on August 5 was Abd Al Latif Bin ’Abdallah Salih Muhammad Al Kawari (“Al-Kawari”), who was found to have raised funds from wealthy Qataris and other private individuals in the Gulf States and delivered them to al-Qaeda’s central command in the AfPak region. Al-Kawari also served as a security official for al-Qaeda and was responsible for procuring a fraudulent passport for a prominent al-Qaeda operative.
Henceforth, all assets owned or controlled by Messrs Al-Kabi and Al-Kawari under U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen, and U.S. persons will be banned from doing any business with them.
These designations are particularly noteworthy given that al-Nusra currently maintains strong ties to the United States’ allies in the Middle East, and is a key player in the U.S.-led effort against the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (“ISIL”). Some commentators had therefore expected more US lenience toward the group, describing it as the lesser of two evils. The Obama administration’s denunciation of al-Nusra’s Qatari backers in spite of the group’s current status of allies-by-default highlights the gravity of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its financial helpers. Indeed, groups such as al-Nusra which have adopted the al-Qaeda modus operandi of direct attacks on the West, pose a more serious threat to the U.S. and Europe’s short-term security interests than ISIL, which focuses on territorial conquest circumscribed for the time being to the Middle East. Furthermore, many commentators have pointed out that the United States must be extremely concerned with the Qatari’s lax attitude towards terror financing to continue to confront the Sheikh on the issue. Indeed, the U.S. should otherwise be keen to preserve its ties with Qatar given that the country hosts the largest American military base in the region.
A U.S. Treasury official voiced dissatisfaction that the two men had not yet been arrested by the Qatari authorities, and that “there continues to be concerns with terrorist financing going on in Qatar.”