On November 17, 2015 David Andrew Weinberg, senior fellow at the Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, spoke before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, and Trade to address the issue of private terror finance. Much of the information he provided, in an effort to persuade politicians to tighten the reins of punishment on suspected terrorist financers, was not new. In a well tread argument, Weinberg reiterated that certain governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) do little or nothing to punish the religious and philanthropic individuals and groups who finance Al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda splinters throughout the Middle East. Weinberg also expressed frustration at U.S. and U.N. economic and travel sanctions, which have little to no effect on terror financiers living a life of impunity in the GCC. The U.S. should absolutely demand the support of their allies in the fight against private terror financing. But when individuals and think tanks raise questions about GCC reliability, Qatar and Kuwait religiously maintain that they are helping. Are we dealing with a language barrier here?
Qatar, for example, is the only country in the GCC that has failed to hold trial for any of individuals living in their country who currently face international sanctions. Yet, when questioned about their complicity in financing terror, Qatar claims that they’ve been keeping an eye on international money transfers, that they have restructured their anti-terrorism committee, and that they have forbid suspicious individuals from entering the country. In September 2014, the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, asserted, “we don't fund extremists,” in an interview with CNN, but one cannot help but wonder how Qatar’s definition of “funding extremists” might be different from that of the U.S and the U.N. In the latest example from August 2015, Qatar failed to act on allegations of terror financing by refusing to detain Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Shariyan Ka’bi and Abd Al-Latif Bin ‘Abdallah Salih Muhammad Kawari, two men targeted by the U.S. government for funding Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra operatives in Syria through a now defunct social networking site, Madad Ahl Al Sham, based out of Qatar. Why the Qatari government found Madad Ahl Al Sham a credible enough threat to be removed from the internet while its developers, Kawari and Ka’bi, continue to go undetained is not immediately clear. But the passive-aggressive stance that Qataris take in an effort to claim that they are “helping,” can only go so far. Their lack of action becomes all the more ominous when one of those protected Qatari financiers happens to be a repeat offender who financed the mastermind of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
In, conceivably, the most distressing example of Qatar’s blatant refusal to comply with U.S. and U.N. mandates, Weinberg recalls that sanctions against Qatari national Khalifa al-Subaiy are continually ignored by the Qatari government. A wealthy Qatari Central Bank employee, al-Subaiy was also the financier of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, al Qaeda’s mastermind behind 9/11. In 2008, al-Subaiy was convicted, in absentia, of financing terrorism, undergoing terrorist training, financing others to attend terrorist training, and being a member of a terrorist group by Bahrain’s High Criminal court. Shortly afterward, al-Subaiy was arrested in Qatar where, according to the U.S. Treasury, he “is currently serving his sentence.” What the Treasury report fails to include is the fact that al-Subaiy’s “sentence” was only a six-month incarceration. Clearly, Qatar’s definition of “helping” is limited to the short term.
Since his time in prison, al-Subaiy’s financial endeavors show no signs of stopping. U.S. government reports from September 2014 accuse al-Subaiy, together with U.S. designated terrorist 'Abd al Malik ‘Abd al Salam (a Jordanian with a Qatari national ID), of sending tens of thousand of euros to senior members of al-Qaeda in Syria. The fact that terror financing continues to go unregulated in Qatar means that people like al-Subaiy become repeat offenders. For example, Weinberg cites a September 2014 U.S. Treasury report linking al-Subaiy to al Qaeda in Pakistan. Understandably exasperated by Qatar’s blind eye, Weinberg writes, “Despite Qatari claims that al-Subaiy would be ‘under control’ and his finances controlled or supervised, he later resumed sending hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, according to the government.” Despite the claims of Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, the Qatari Foreign Minister, one month prior to the 2014 U.S. Treasury report, that “Qatar does not endorse any extremist group in any way,” it becomes clear that Qatar is unwilling to take lawful measures to prevent al-Subaiy and other convicted nationals from financially endorsing terrorist organizations; therefore, at the very least, the Qatari government necessarily becomes complicit in these actions. Helping, it seems, is tantamount to saying rather than doing in Qatar.