The tiny emirate of Qatar commands a global presence disproportionate to its real size. With plans to host the World Cup in 2022, Qatar remains at the forefront of the world’s attention. While this sports event has occasionally shed light on abuses of workers’ rights in the build-up to the World Cup projects, far too little attention has been heeded to perhaps Qatar’s most looming concern – its role as a sponsor of terrorism.
To this day, Qatar remains one of Hamas’s largest funders and supporters. Qatar has pledged more than $1.1 billion to Hamas since 2012. However, Hamas is an extremist group with a malign influence on the Arab-Israeli conflict and an extremist agenda. Doha has also welcomed high-profile Hamas figures, inviting senior officials such as Khaled Meshaal, the former chief of Hamas’s political wing. Ultimately, Qatar has encouraged the Iranian-backed group to operate with impunity.
In addition to harbouring Hamas, the Qatari government has sought to amplify the organisation’s voice and mission, as well as that of other terrorist groups. Through its state-owned, state-funded news channel Al Jazeera, the Qatari government has shared streams of Hamas’s conferences and speeches. Al Jazeera has also glorified other terrorist organisations.
Qatar’s support for terrorism is not exclusively expressed through its support for Hamas, a reality that becomes more self-evident when analysing Qatar’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Recognised as a terrorist group by, among others, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria and Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood is accredited as the source and inspiration for Hamas and, by some scholars, as the inspiration for Al Qaeda when accounting for Sayyid Qutb’s impact on MB ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood has received more than $1 billion from the Qatari government.
Other benefactors of Qatari funding include Ahrar Al Sham, a Syrian militant group intent on establishing an Islamist state in the country, and Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Shia militia bent on advancing the objectives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
While Qatar currently harbours 20 high-ranking members of the Taliban, it also hosts some of Al Qaeda’s chief financiers, among them Khalifa Al Subaiy. A former employee of Qatar’s Central Bank, Al Subaiy financed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, according to US intelligence. In 2008, Al Subaiy was convicted in absentia by Bahrain’s High Criminal Court for financing and recruiting terrorists, a gesture that finally provoked Qatar to imprison him.
Despite the banker being on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, Qatari officials released him after a mere six months, allowing him to resume his funding of terrorism. Between 2011 and 2012, Al Subaiy sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Al Qaeda leaders; in 2013 and 2014, he also began fundraising for the Taliban.
Through its funding of terrorism and its harbouring of terrorists and their financial backers, Qatar has embraced its role as a sponsor of terrorism. While the impending World Cup is bound to impress spectators seeing Qatar for the first time, meaningful discussion regarding the nation’s role in sponsoring terrorism must be brought to the forefront. If football is a serious subject, the prospects of international security must be even more so.