Qatar and the Al-Qaeda deal

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 9

Some light was recently cast on some curious comments voiced at the time of the bombing of a theatre in Doha on March 19, reported in Terrorism Focus (Volume 2, Issue 7). The online Arabic language Elaph newspaper quoted the Qatari foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, expressing outrage at the “act of unpardonable treachery by Bin Laden” and also quoted an al-Qaeda spokesman as stating that Qatar was not on the list of their targets and that the bombing was undertaken by an individual without their knowledge and that they condemned it [].

At first sightthe existence of such a deal is perplexing in a country that ideally should present al-Qaeda with a prime target. Qatar hosts the U.S. military’s Central Command base, and Bin Laden’s propaganda emphasizes its campaign to ‘expel the infidel from the Arabian Peninsula.’ Yet there may be a financial logic to al-Qaeda’s unusual position on Qatar.

According to a report in the UK Sunday Times newspaper, official sources speaking in the last week of April described a deal cut between the government of Qatar and al-Qaeda prior to the 2003 intervention in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, in a bid to head off trouble as a close ally of Washington. Under the deal, millions of dollars go out annually to al-Qaeda. Following the Egyptian suicide bomb attack on the Doha theatre, the agreement was renewed, according to the source, “just to be on the safe side.” Diplomats downplay reports of Qatari royals actively aiding al-Qaeda operatives, arguing malevolence from other Arab states at Qatar’s developing natural gas wealth and role as a leading U.S. ally. But according to the Times report, the unnamed official candidly spoke of Qatar being a ‘soft target’ which prefers to pay to secure national and economical interests, and that, moreover, they are not the only ones doing so. The money is believed to be channelled via spiritual leaders sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and hence finds its way to the organization’s activities in Iraq [].

If hard evidence is in short supply, it should be said that the 5,000 or so American personnel staffing the U.S. facilities in Qatar, or western civilian personnel, have yet to be the target of threats — in marked contrast to other countries in the Gulf hosting U.S. military personnel, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

If the state of Qatar has forged a financial compact with al-Qaeda — and it is an assumption which flies in the face of its foreign strategy, it is a high-risk policy with a bad track record. Saudi Arabia felt itself similarly immune until al-Qaeda unilaterally rethought its position on the regime. The organization also can count on a good deal of street-level support, given the growing anti-American sentiment of its native population and the over 60 percent of expatriate workers, many of them from Muslim majority countries and bitterly opposed to the US policy in Iraq.