When the Anti-Terror Quartet—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt—imposed a boycott on Qatar nearly three years ago, the primary problem these governments had was that Doha was acting to materially and ideologically support Islamist extremists and other subversive forces in the region, including terrorists. Despite Doha’s ab initio denials, there have been tacit admissions of past wrongs and claims to have reformed. The case of the Shaykh Thani bin Abdullah al-Thani Foundation for Humanitarian Services (the “RAF Foundation”) is a case in point.
Describing itself as a “Qatari civil society organization specialized in humanitarian work in the fields of emergency relief and development, both domestically and globally”, RAF Foundation says its “philosophy is based on our belief that every human being has a right to a dignified life, humanitarian aid, assistance, and protection”, while laying claim to the values of providing indiscriminate humanitarian relief and “striv[ing] … to prevent violent extremism leading to terrorism”. In this mission, the RAF Foundation has a curious choice of partners—and, indeed, founders. Among the RAF Foundation’s founding members was Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaym, an advisor to Qatar’s government and an internationally sanctioned terrorist.
First, there is Muhammad Jassem al-Sulayti, identified as a member of the RAF Foundation. Al-Sulayti was an aide to Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy, a sanctioned terrorist. When Al-Subaiy was added to the United States Treasury blacklist in 2008, he was described as a “Qatar-based terrorist financier and facilitator who has provided financial support to, and acted on behalf of, Al-Qaeda’s senior leadership”, including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the operational planner of the 9/11 attack. Al-Subaiy helped fund Al-Qaeda “central” in the Pakistani tribal region, and “worked with senior Al-Qaeda facilitators to move extremist recruits to Al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan”. Perhaps most interestingly, according to the Treasury, Al-Subaiy “served as a diplomatic and communications conduit between Al-Qaeda and third parties in the Middle East.” When the United Nations sanctioned Al-Subaiy, it ratified these details.
Al-Sulayti’s work alongside Al-Subaiy was not his only connection to Al-Qaeda’s network. In September 2014, he oversaw a fundraising effort, ostensibly for rebel forces in Syria and in fact for Al-Qaeda’s branch in the country, Jabhat al-Nusra, now Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). A network of Al-Qaeda supporters on the Gulf, notably Saad bin Saad al-Ka’bi and Abd al-Latif Bin Abdullah al-Kawar, assisted in this effort, and both appeared, as did Wagdy Ghoneim, another sanctioned Al-Qaeda associate, at various events in Qatar, some of them raising money for the RAF Foundation.
Then there is the fact that “Nabil al-Awadhy, a fundraising partner of US and UN sanctioned Al-Qaeda financier Shafi bin Sultan al-Ajmi, has sponsored and supervised RAF Foundation campaigns and participated in multiple events organized by RAF.”
Turkey largely deals with the insurgent forces in northern Syria at this point, including HTS, though its various state instruments, notably the Turkish Red Crescent, have been connected to the RAF Foundation. The Foundation is reported to have channeled $130 million through the Turkish Red Crescent to Al-Nusra/HTS under the cover of humanitarian aid. This “humanitarian aid” allegedly included weapons.
During the Syria crisis, Qatar has paid a number of ostensible ransoms to free Western hostages that appear to have been disguised payments to Al-Nusra—and there was one such payment involving Al-Nusra and its close ally Ahrar al-Sham that ended up becoming a near-billion dollar payment that affected both Syria and Iraq and sent funds into the hands of both the Sunni extremists of Al-Nusra and Ahrar, and Shi’a extremist groups controlled by Iran. In January, an American involved in one of these kidnappings, Matthew Schrier, sued the Qatar Islamic Bank and implicates Saad al-Ka’bi for knowingly funding his captors.
The RAF Foundation has not only been problematic in Syria. For example, in Sudan, currently undergoing a democratic transition after decades of Islamist dictatorship, RAF has spent $37 million, most of it going into empowering the fallen regime of Omar al-Bashir and his Muslim Brotherhood allies who are making this transition so difficult.
For these reasons among many others, the Quartet listed the RAF Foundation as a terrorist entity. In the intervening years, Qatar has given little indication that it has taken concrete steps to mend its ways.