Italian authorities uncovered a massive arms cache—including “26 guns, 20 bayonets, 306 gun parts [such as] silencers and rifle scopes, and more than 800 bullets”—belonging to neo-Nazi militants on 15 July. Among the weapons discovered in the possession of the far-Right militants was a French-made Matra air-to-air missile that had belonged to Qatar’s armed forces, raising questions about Doha’s responsibility in its handling of weapons supplied to it and its practices with arms sales.
The Qatari government released a statement to Reuters via foreign ministry spokesman Lolwah al-Khater that the missile had been sold to “another friendly nation … 25 years ago”. Ms. Al-Khater added: “The captured Matra Super530 missile was sold by Qatar in the year 1994 in a deal that included 40 Matra Super 530 missiles to a friendly nation that wishes not to be named at this point of the investigation”.
Experts tend to agree that it is unlikely Qatar directly supplied the missile to the neo-Nazis. “[The missile] probably ended on the black market where the group managed to get hold of it. It might have been that Qatar got rid of them when doing an upgrade and that’s how they ended on the market,” Dr. Hassan Elbahtimy of Kings College London told The National.
It is possible that the Qatari missile made its way to Italy after being in a conflict zone, either in former Yugoslavia or present-day Libya. Why anyone would purchase a missile without an ability to launch it is mysterious, as is the mechanism of how the missile got from Qatari state storage to non-state actors in one of these conflict zones in the first place.
As Kabir Taneja, an associate fellow of the Observer Research Foundation, noted to The National, “the fact that [the missile is] coming from Qatar, which is a heavily fortified state, raises more questions than answers at the moment”. One of the key questions, as Dr. Elbahtimy outlined, is that “you would expect that [there] are measures to dispose of these systems”, and Qatar seemingly does not have such safeguards in place.
This lack of safeguards and the inability to keep track of sophisticated weapons, such as missiles, is worrying given that Qatar purchases very large quantities of Western weaponry—and has been purchasing even more recently as part of a political campaign to sway Western opinion in its favour against the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ), consisting of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt.
The ATQ began a boycott of Doha in 2017 to try to stop its destabilizing behaviour in the region, particularly its financial support and provision of arms to extremist and terrorist groups. Many Western states tried to remain neutral in this dispute, or even—thanks to the vast Qatari lobbying effort—tilted towards Doha. With Qatari weapons turning up in the hands of terrorists on European soil, perhaps these Western governments will rethink their posture.