Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.
Between January 19, 2018 and January 24, 2018, a delegation of researchers and academics from the U.S. think-tanks and non-profit organizations, which also included researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), paid a visit to Qatar to meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense, the Governor of the Central Bank of Qatar, academics, and other high-level and leading figures of Qatar to shed light on the recently imposed sanctions on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Bahrain, and Egypt, citing the Qatari government’s alleged support for terrorism.
Doha The dispute between Qatar and the powerful Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Egypt and Bahrain continues to attract public attention. The diplomatic and economic blockade imposed on Qatar by the aforementioned four countries stems from the allegations that Qatar is meddling in the internal affairs of its neighboring states. Tensions have arisen especially in light of charges that it supports the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Hamas, and al-Qaeda affiliates, as well as for its relationship with Iran.
The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt remains a polarizing factor in most of the Gulf States, notably inSaudi Arabia, Egypt, and the U.A.E.. Following the toppling of Hussni Mobarak’s regime in 2011, Qatar poured billions of dollars in support of the Brotherhood-led government in Egypt. Following the 2013 crackdown against the Brotherhood members in Egypt, leading to the group being outlawed and designated by Egypt as a terrorist organization, Qatar continues to be criticized by Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Egypt for providing a safe haven and citizenship to Islamist renegades, including members of the Brotherhood, from other Gulf Countries.
Qatar is also criticized of supporting Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood in Gaza.It has repeatedly been accused of pouring billions of dollars into the Gaza strip, largely investing in infrastructure, building hospitals and creating jobs, despite it being under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.The growing clashes between Shia militants and the Saudi security forces in the east of Saudi Arabia, the fight against Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the 2011 uprising by the majority Shia population in Bahrain are all charged in part to Qatar and its alleged support for anti-government militias in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain.
While it is true that Qatar is a supporter of groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and the fact that such support serves as prime focal point in linking Qatar’s alleged terror- support and terror-funding schemes, things may not be as simple as they seem.
Amidst other accusations directed against Qatar was the distrust over its state-funded broadcaster in Doha, al Jazeera, which is seen by the blockading countries as a purveyor of extremism. The accusations against al Jazeera are longstanding and have been made for years by many countries. For instance, it faced criticism by Saudi Arabia and other blockading countries for its coverage of the Arab Spring and unfavorable portrayal of monarchies and governments in the Middle East. In the past, prior to the age of social media, terrorist groups wanting to air their messages would turn to al Jazeera (surreptitiously providing video tapes to the channel). Chechens holding 800 hostages in the 2001 siege of the Dubrovka Moscow theater, for instance, did so, as has Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. Nowadays, terrorists upload their messages directly to the Internet and rely on their social media networks to distribute them, but in reality, by such measure, nearly all news media outlets could be considered guilty of providing platforms for violent extremist and terrorist groups, including ISIS, to distribute their messages, as these same uploaded messages are replayed on most major Western news channels as well.
While the English broadcasting version of al Jazeera does not serve as a platform for extremism, some non-Qatari citizens offer claim that the Arabic version gives an undue platform to extremists. In a non-scientific polling of a small sample of Iraqi, Jordanian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Syrian and Arab speaking American, French, and Belgian viewers to understand al Jazeera’s role in spreading extremism, ICSVE researchers found varying sentiments, from strongly worded responses such as “the Qatari owned network is a podium for spreading extremism” and that “it has certain shows which inflame the public opinion and influences the minds of youth” to more measured statements that it “sometimes gives an opportunity to some extremists to express their opinion, much like mainstream Western media might let a far-right or racist white supremacist speak.” One respondent stated that the channel “allowed terrorists a podium, but with a bit of toning it could also be used to expose terrorists and maybe pave way for dialogue.” Others believe that “al Jazeera is covering different sides and point of views that some people don’t want to see.” One respondent noted, “Al Jazeera is like CNN over Trump… they concentrate for or against, according to the emir’s will.” One respondent noted that during the 2003 U.S.-led Coalition invasion of Iraq al Jazeera provided counter balancing coverage to Western media’s coverage of the same. Perhaps most tellingly, one Arab respondent pointed out that al Jazeera may be considered tame in comparison to Saudi Arabia’s al Arabia, and many of the other regionally sponsored networks.
In any case, al Jazeera may be the most pressing and challenging issue for Qatari leadership. Using their state- owned television station to poke at their neighboring countries in ways that their neighbor’s leadership finds highly irritating, if not threatening, is challenging indeed. For a television station that holds as its motto, “Giving voice to the voiceless,” supported by a country that is less fearful of the changes happening throughout the Arab world, it may be too willing to voice opinions that other neighboring countries simply do not want supported. For instance, when the Arab Spring of 2011 sent shock waves throughout the region, giving millions of Arabs hopes for regime change and democratic governance, al Jazeera was giving these events full coverage.
While the blockading countries of Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain sought to erect a seawall barricading their regimes from the popular wave of change emanating from the Arab Spring, the Qatari government stood more patient; it was more content to wait for events to progress naturally, and towards more democratic forms of governance, as pointed out by Qatari government officials, while not fearing for their own regime’s downfall. Moreover, through the Arab Spring, and even before it, Qatar has supported and allowed for al Jazeera, the state-funded broadcaster in Doha, which officials claim to be quasi-independent, to criticize the records and policies of neighboring states on human rights and other issues, infuriating and causing them to fear a popular backlash.
The government of Qatar confident in its own popular support was not opposed to the groundswell of popular demand for regime change when it resulted in Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Abidine Ben Ali being ousted, and democratic elections held to allow the people to choose their own leaders. The political win by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt caused concern among those who feared that the Brotherhood’s Islamists aspirations could lead to a dismantling of the very democratic processes that had brought them to power, but Qatar did not share that worry.
While other nations stood back watching to see what would happen, Qatar stood by the Muslim Brotherhood, allowing them access to the media via the Qatari network of al Jazeera and by giving them large tranches of financial support to help them continue to govern. Yet, in Egypt, the political elites and the military conspired against the Muslim Brotherhood, resulting in the 2013 military coup that ousted and labeled their group as terrorists, with a non-elected government coming to power, at least temporarily. Al Jazeera was kicked out of the country. Its journalists were arrested. Qatar ended up taking Muslim Brotherhood exiles into their nation, and in many cases providing them with Qatari citizenship.
In defense of his country’s policies in regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatari Ambassador Mutlaq al Qahtani, the Special Envoy for Qatar’s Foreign Minister, responded that “Qatar’s position is to respect the will of the people in regard to who rules them.” The Ambassador further noted that neither the U.S. State Department nor the United Nations have designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. Given Qatar’s stance on respecting the will of the people in choosing their political destiny, as well as their deep desire to see a stable Egypt progressing through the Arab Spring, Qatar gave the Muslim Brotherhood their full support following the fall of Mubarak and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood into power through democratic elections, despite angering its neighbors for such actions, the Ambassador noted. He also pointed out that “Washington works with the Taliban, which is recognized by the U.N. Security Council as a terrorist group” whereas Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are not designated, so we don’t have issues; yet we get accused.”
The United Arab Emirates has a particular quarrel with Qatar over the Muslim Brotherhood, as its members were accused of trying to overthrow the Emirati government. The wife of an Emirati opposition leader seeking asylum in Doha served as the crucial nerve-point leading to the quarrel and aggressive attacks against one another in the media, and even served as one of the primary reasons for the blockade, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al Thani. Her case has caused a quarrel between the two countries over the demand by the U.A.E. to extradite her and Qatar’s refusal to do so.
Citing both legal and Islamic traditions, Qatari officials commented that she was there on political asylum and not guilty of any crimes, and as a woman, Qatari officials would not be willing to turn her over against her will to a country that might imprison or otherwise harm her. When ICSVE director was in the U.A.E. this past month, Emirati government officials cited Qatar as harboring Muslim Brotherhood members from other countries, and even providing them with passports to enable their travel abroad. While some view such actions as highly irritating, including Egypt and the U.A.E., among others, Qatari officials adamantly deny such actions as constituting support for known terrorists or terrorist groups. In fact, officials cite the 2012 legitimate and overwhelming victories of Islamist parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, in post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.
Qatar’s position seems to be no different than the other Arab countries in standing firm for a solution with Israel and seeing Hamas both as a legitimate political force and governing party, much like many others now see Hezbollah. Similar to other Arab States, Qatar allows Palestinian refugees to reside in their countries, but fails to provide them with passports, continuing to insist on their right of return. A jeep driver who gave us a great ride and amazing adrenaline rush barreling over cliffs in the sand dunes outside of Doha shared his experiences of having been born in Qatar but still unable to obtain citizenship due to his Palestinian citizenship.
Qatari diplomats insist on Israel adhering to U.N. resolutions and finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Qatar being firmly in favor of a two-state solution. Qatar does not officially recognize Israel, though Qatari officials do not deny having diplomatic relations with Israel which indirectly recognize their statehood, such as in the case of having a Qatari official serving in Jerusalem and in charge of funneling humanitarian aid that is approved by Israel, through Israeli territory into Gaza, to rebuild the war-torn area.
While Qatar is accused by its neighbors of supporting terrorists, the United States Air Force is comfortably hosted at al al-Udeid Air Base, which serves as a main operations and logistical hub for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) areas of operation. The General and Colonels we met with, who lived off base in Doha with their spouses and children, said that the cooperation between the two countries was crucial for the U.S. Air Force to act at peak performance supporting missions as far away as Afghanistan and in providing air support and supplies for the fight against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. One of the Qatari officials cited Qatar’s financial support for the expansion of the base and their intention to build a school and community there, although U.A.E. officials have countered by offering to build the same facility to replace the al-Udeid Air Base on Emirati soil.
Most of the military members we spoke to at al-Udeid airbase had children who attended the international school in Doha. Their parents remarked that their children were mixing with members of the royal family and that everyone felt safe in Qatar and there was no sense of hostility against the presence of U.S. troops, which was very positive for all of them. While there has been at least one incident of an attempted attack on the airbase, involving a man with a Kalashnikov trying to enter the base in 2001, the U.S. military credited the Qatari security forces with having a tight hold on who enters their country and for what purpose. It is also noteworthy that Qatar was responsible for brokering the prisoner swap to free U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network and helped free American writer Peter Theo Curtis from al Nusra.
Qatari officials stressed that some of the reasons behind the blockade were jockeying between the regional players for influence as well as jealousy over Qatar’s wealth and ability to pour resources into their global efforts. Indeed, Qatar is a wealthy state.
While the blockade has caused deep concern for Qatari officials, they seem to be weathering the storm quiet well. The Governor of the Central Bank of Qatar, Abdulla bin Saoud al-Thani, expressed enthusiasm about the country’s economy and investment funds in general, although some financial experts we spoke to pointed out a mass flight of capital from the bank—that is, Saudis and other blockading country citizens withdrawing their cash, in the early days of the blockade. One of the solutions was to call upon Qatari citizens living abroad to repatriate their money, which many did out of patriotic concern and nationalistic ardor.
The Central Bank of Qatar officials also pointed out that since 9-11, they have significantly tightened controls on money flowing out of the country, particularly by allowing only two organizations (The Qatar Charity and the Red Crescent) to wire funds or make cash disbursements outside of the country. Yet, banks are not the only way in which one can hinder flows across international financial networks when it comes to terrorism, nor hinder the way in which terrorist groups and militias are financed. A case in point is when a party of 26 Qatari falconers—some from the royal family—were taken hostage in southern Iraq in 2015 by a Shia militia, Qatar flew millions of U.S. dollars to buy their freedom, calling some to question where the money went and whether it was an appropriate response. Iraqi intelligence officials, however, informed ICSVE researchers that the plane load of money from Qatar was intercepted by Iraqi intelligence officers. The hostages were ultimately freed through Iraqi brokering and the money remains in a frozen account.
Accusations have also been made about how al Nusra and ISIS managed to finance themselves in their first days of their formation following the uprising against Syrian President Assad. In fact, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are accused of supporting Ahrar al-Sham, an organization with direct ties to Al-Qaeda. Stories abound about Sunni Arab businessmen sending money to Sunni Syrians trying to stand up against Assad’s atrocities, including one told to us from a high-level U.S. diplomat of Kuwaiti businessmen sending large sums of money to arm the rebels. In the early years of the Syrian uprising, journalists uncovered money trails moving via Turkey to Syria, through payments made to President Erdogan, and then passed to Sunni rebel groups. There are allegations that Qatar, too, was involved in these payments. Arguably, even the U.S. was part of such concerned parties scrambling to find the correct partners to arm and fund in the uprising against Assad.
Concerns have been voiced as well about where U.S. money and guns might have ended up in Iraq and Syria. In discussing specifically about the arms that were supplied to ISIS and other violent extremist groups by both internal and external actors, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out that even American weapons made it into the hands of such groups. Namely, he stressed that in a chaotic war situation where factions rapidly shift and switch loyalties, it can be difficult to know who to arm. He also noted that ISIS captured many of their weapons from competing factions. Indeed, ISIS defectors interviewed by ICSVE researchers cited instances of having to unwrap new weapons from their cellophane protectors and receiving large weapon supplies from many unknown sources and donors, as well as capturing massive supplies of arms from Assad’s troops. When it comes to terrorism financing, Qataris have prosecuted those identified of terrorism financing, although their exact sentences are not known given these facts are not made public.
Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs, al Thani, also noted that Qatar has joined the military theaters of operation in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and that it was helping to train and arm the rebels alongside the Turks, Arabs and Americans, further noting, the “Red line is ISIS and al Nusra, but we helped the regular groups that are not designated as terrorists. When we [along with other nations] helped establish the Free Syrian Army, we worked very hard to unite them.” However, he stated that things changed with Russia’s involvement, and many seeing Syria as occupied by foreign powers, with the war being one of liberation.
Regarding the future of Syria, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs remained steadfast about supporting the will of the Syrian people: “We want it to look like what the people want.” When asked about the possibility of Assad remaining in power, he stated, “Assad did even more crimes than ISIS committed. So, how can we tolerate to deal with a war criminal as a leader in the area? Then we create a precedent for this?”
When one examines the numbers of Qataris who joined the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as foreign fighters, the total numbers are small, with reports varying depending on cited statistics, from 8 to 15 total, whereas neighboring Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Tunisia had thousands of foreign fighters. Ambassador Qahtani explained that the high numbers of foreign fighters coming from Jordan and Tunisia are a direct result of dictatorship, while stating that the few Qataris who joined the conflicts in Syria went after viewing on the media, as he put it, “our people [Sunnis] being killed and feeling hopeless. Qataris went for humanitarian reasons and then got manipulated on the ground,” he explained. Indeed, this echoes what ICSVE researchers have repeatedly heard of those who joined the Syrian conflicts early on from many places around the world.
As alliances in the region shift, particularly in light of the blockade, concerns have been raised about the new nexus of power arising out of Qataris isolation from the blockading countries, including Qatar’s increasingly close relationship to Turkey and Iran. When asked whether there are any such concerns related to Qatar gravitating towards Iran in pursuit of its geo-political and economic goals, a U.S. military leader at the al-Udeid base we spoke to pointed out that it likely made their base safer—Iran would be unlikely to attack a base located on the territory of their ally. In addition to launching a huge airpower build up, such as through the purchase of dozens of Typhoon fighters and Boeing F-15QAs, among others, and pumping up their military capacities and offering more support to the American troops located at the al-Udeid Army Base, Qataris have also extended their hospitality to Turkish troops who have requested an increased presence in the region. In addressing the influx of Turkish troops in Qatar for joint training exercises and Qatari capacity building, many of the Qatari officials pointed out that the Turks had explored possibilities of locating their presence in Saudi Arabia first. They also mentioned that Turkey, at least for the moment, remains a key NATO member and an American ally.
While the blockade may seem to outsiders a case of serious sibling rivalry among Arab royals, or a case of the pot calling the kettle black, in Qatar there were some serious concerns about a military invasion and change of regime being forced as a result. Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, Qatari Defense Minister, cited his and his country’s concerns that Saudi Arabia felt emboldened to move against Qatar after their November 2017 successful hosting of President Donald Trump and the negotiation of a large investment in the United States that ensued. “We were very worried about an imminent invasion, but three things warded it off,” the Defense Minister explained. The first was “Turkish President Recep Erdogan endorsing deployment with Qatar on our behalf; this scared them [the blockading nations]. The second was, “They [the blockading nations] also thought that the Europeans will align behind them, but they did not, Germany only, then France and Italy and then the U.S. [failed to join]. Lastly, they also thought the U.S. was with them but ignored that the U.S. is an institutional nation.”
While President Trump at first appeared to agree with the blockading nations, he later reconsidered his position, and in fact, most Western countries have made it clear that the blockade should stop as it is likely illegal from an international law point of view.
The threat of military escalation continues with Emirati jets accused of violating Qatari airspace and the counter accusation of Qatari jets buzzing an Emirati passenger jet flying on the border of their airspace. Qatar’s Defense Minister stated that the official position of Qatar was to arrest and return foreign fisherman found violating Qatari waters to their home countries, although they were angered to find on one such boat five Emirati troops. “Two days ago, the boat came from Bahrain, a bigger size, and military people from the U.A.E. were on the boat. It was not a mistake,” the Defense Minister explained. He went on to explain that there are absolutely no direct military or other communications between Qatar and the blockading countries. “In the Cold War there were back doors, but not in our case. We are totally in dark,” he noted.
Despite the aggravation, however, Qataris seem to feel more confident in their alliances with Turkey and the United States, while also citing the prospects for increased alliance with Iran and Russia—alliances strengthened over feelings of necessity. During the briefing on the topic, Director of Communication at the Ministry of Defense, Lt. Col. Nawaf al Thani noted that he had just received a Reuters report of the Emiratis warning their pilots to not escalate the military tensions.
During a visit to Education City in the heart of Doha, where the campuses of Northwestern, Georgetown, and several other prominent U.S. universities are housed, one cannot help but notice an interesting trend. Students from the blockading countries stayed in country and continued their enrollment uninterrupted, although they are now inconvenienced to travel indirectly when they visit home. Equally interesting is the fact that both Emiratis and Bahrainis have passed laws making it illegal and punishable offenses for those residing in their respective countries to express support for Qatar. Qatari websites are also suppressed in Abu Dhabi, as noted by some of the respondents during our visit to Qatar’s Education City, yet professors and students in Qatar shared that these issues are discussed openly, that free speech and academic freedom is practiced and encouraged on the campus.
Aside from fearing a military invasion, Qataris who were in the middle of observing the holy month of Ramadan, which according to Qatari officials represents a peak food consumption period, were faced with immediate food shortages. Their neighboring countries slammed land barriers and ports down, forcing Qataris to rely on new and more expensive alternatives, such as supply chains for milk and products not normally farmed or produced inside Qatar. Officials cited their resilience, while proudly joking about the herd of “first class cows” that were shipped into the country by air and now housed in air-conditioned barns to resupply the milk and dairy chain. Likewise, Hamad Port, located south of Doha, was officially opened in September of last year. They also began to rely on the Omani port of Sohar. While Qatar now supplies much of its food from Turkey and Iran, they also began high-tech food production inside the country and expect to continue, stating that the blockade in many ways forced them to bolster their self- reliance. “We are now 60 to 70% self-producing and self-sufficient,” the Governor of the Central Bank of Qatar proudly stated.
With the continued cooperation between the U.S. and Qatar it is interesting to consider the different perspectives that are taken by Qatar and the U.S. in regard to fighting terrorism. As Ambassador al Qahtani, explained, “The Qatari perspective is that we focus on root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, whereas Americans often focus on military solutions but underestimate the local drivers of ongoing conflicts, which include dictatorship, poverty, and exclusion.” He went on to explain that Qatar’s answer to terrorism has three prongs: education, aiming to provide educations for 60 million children globally (with Qatar currently providing education for 10 million children in 40 countries); economic empowerment and initiatives that provide employment opportunities for young men and women (having achieved this for 2 million persons, a majority from Jordan, Tunisia, including Saudis, but also aiming to provide job opportunities in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi and Yemen); and engaging in preventing conflict and preventative diplomacy.
Indeed, these are important issues that require attention. Soft power approaches are badly needed alongside the heavy U.S. kinetic focus. Ambassador Qahtani underlined that, “the U.S. is a strategic partner of Qatar and we have ongoing dialogue with them,” referring to the upcoming high level Strategic Dialogue meetings occurring between the two countries in Washington, D.C. this week. “Of course, we need the military defeat of Daesh, winning the war in Syria and Iraq, but we also need to defeat the ideology and to tackle root causes. Addressing root causes has another timeline for success,” the Ambassador noted, stating Qatar’s pride about being a founding partner, funder and only Muslim country on the board of the G-CERF, an organization devoted to tackling root causes of terrorism.
Historically speaking, Washington has long been frustrated with its Gulf counterparts, including Qatar, for not taking a stronger stance when it comes to combating terrorism financing. While some Middle Eastern experts would argue that when it comes to the Middle East, terrorism financing is a function of regional socio-political dynamics and carefully crafted strategic calculations, the issue remains serious, nonetheless. The concerns over state and private support for terrorism are particularly egregious to Americans knowing that Israel has suffered long at the hands of Hamas. The ties and friendship with Iran also raises serious concerns.
Qatar’s support for Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, remains the crucial nerve-point leading to the quarrel among Qatar and the blockading states. While domestically Qatar’s support for such groups during the Arab Spring might have served to echo Qatar’s determination to respect the will of the people and push for a more progressive stance towards Islamist groups in the region, the question remains if, as suggested by some analysts, Qatar can continue to use them as a counterbalance or shield against its regional neighbors—and if so, at what cost?
Government officials stressed the important role of al-Jazeera in promoting media pluralism and media transparency. Al-Jazeera is seen as a powerful voice in swaying Arab public opinion—and doing it in both English and Arabic. It also serves to promote a diversity of cultural expressions, as noted by some respondents. While al-Jazeera continues to face backlash by the blockading countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, it remains defiant. Arguably, al-Jazeera is there to stay—at least for some time to come, as are the other regionally sponsored networks. Perhaps removing content that plays directly into extremist hands and lends support to violent narratives, without encroaching on its editorial freedom, could be one way to deal with it.
Although the extent to which the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar support radical or violent extremist groups in Syria remain debatable and subject to verification—both are accused of supporting Ahrar al-Sham, an organization with direct ties to Al-Qaeda. The ongoing dispute between the two countries could in fact undermine finances to the Syrian opposition and therefore weaken efforts to oust Syrian President Assad. In addition, the ongoing dispute between Qatar and the blockading countries could have repercussions beyond the domestic policies of such countries and endanger U.S. operations in the Middle East as well.
The fact that Qatar hosts a major U.S. military base, with over 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops deployed there, goes to show that the U.S. provides it with existential security. Qataris are showing a strong desire to be upright allies of the United States and to stand firm with our allies in the global fight against terrorism. The recently signed U.S.- Qatari memorandum of understanding on anti-terrorism financing and Qatar’s legal amendments to its domestic anti-terrorism financing laws, including the upcoming January 30th, 2018, meeting between the U.S. President Trump and the high-level Qatari delegation comprised of Qatar’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Defense, among others, remains promising for the future Qatari-U.S. relationship.
Overall, Qatar seems to live up to its commitments to fight terrorism. That said, the continued standoff between Qatar and the blockading states, unless resolved soon, may have a direct impact on the U.S. and the interests of its allies in the fight against terrorism in the region and globally, a reason we may wish to help broker an end to the blockade.
Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (January 29, 2018) Qatar and the Terrorism Blame Game. ICSVE Research Reports
The Family that Slays Together: She Blew Up Herself and Her Two Girls to Murder Christians
Authors: Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci
The deadly attacks during Sunday services in Indonesia were the work of a whole family. They reportedly had returned from ISIS-land—a cautionary lesson as others seek to head home.
While Mother’s Day was being celebrated in the United States, Canada and Australia, a gruesome “celebration” of another kind took place in Indonesia: three nearly simultaneous suicide attacks on three separate churches in Surabaya, all carried out by the members of the same family.
The wave of carnage aimed at killing morning service goers rocked the Indonesian city, killing at least 11 people, and injuring another 40, adn people around the world asked how a mother, Puji Kuswanti, could strap bombs on herself as well as on the bodies of her two daughters, Fadila Sari, 12, and Pamela Rizkita, nine, and take them to the Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church to blow themselves and others up.
Meanwhile, the family’s sons, Yusuf, 18, and Alif, 16, rode motorcycles into Santa Maria Catholic Church, and detonated explosives they were carrying. Their father, Dita Sopriyanto, drove his bomb-laden car into the grounds of Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church where he self-detonated.
The so-called Islamic State already has claimed credit for the attack while Surabaya Police Chief Tito Karnavian confirmed to the BBC that the family belonged to an Indonesian ISIS-inspired network, Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). While al Qaeda killed 202 persons in the Bali bombings in 2002, since then ISIS attacks in Indonesia have been smaller scale and foiled. Recent prison riots set off with ISIS incitement may have spurred these attacks.
The family of six suicide attackers is thought to be among more that 500 Indonesian ISIS sympathizers who have returned from Syria and Iraq. If true they must have imbibed the ISIS Takfir ideology according to which all those who do not adhere to ISIS’ strict interpretations of Islam are enemies worthy to be killed, even if they are other Muslims.
The members of this family, or at least the parents, believed they were taking a short-cut to Paradise, faithful to the militant jihadi teaching that “self-martyrdom” and the killing of the enemies of ISIS brings about the instant reward of bypassing the Judgment Day, forgiveness of all sins, 72 virgins for male martyrs, and eternal beauty for females. This also includes the opportunity for the “martyr” to grant entry to Paradise to another 70-plus family members.
Thus far no Indonesian women or children have taken part previously in terror attacks—this one now opens the door for such participation and underlines the dangers of female and child returnees from ISIS.
The issue of ISIS returnees remains a hotly debated topic. Many governments worldwide are openly expressing their concerns over a flood of weapons-trained ideologically militant men returning home since the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq and much of Syria. While that deluge has not materialized—most of the men have been killed, arrested, or remain at large in the region—the question of how to deal with women and children returnees has no clear answer.
Governments facing the problem of female returnees are trying to decide on a case-by-case basis. The debates continue over whether they should be allowed to return home at all, and if so, whether they might represent a danger to society. Questions also linger over whether they need to be prosecuted—in the case of adult women—and if they can be successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated, in the case of both women and children.
Given that ISIS routinely separated boys as young as six from their parents in camps where they were ideologically indoctrinated and weapons trained, it is not inconceivable that teenage male returnees might pose a grave danger. ISIS also routinely invited foreign fighters’ wives to join the dread ISIS hisbah (morality police), in which they were issued Kalashnikovs, were given great power over others, and took part in brutally abuse of other women for violating ISIS-mandated dress codes and other infringements.
Similarly, foreign women were invited to become ISIS’ online recruiters, writing blogs, contacting others online, and seducing them into joining. And our interviews doing research for the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism make it clear that some women were also combat trained, particularly as ISIS faced the U.S.-led coalition’s onslaught, with women being trained to throw grenades, place and detonate explosives, and fire rifles. Some were issued suicide vests and were also sent to detonate themselves.
Whether that was the case with Puji Kaswanti is still not clear, and it is too early to say whether her suicide and the martyrdom of her children will be the exception or the rule for mothers and children indoctrinated by the blood cult that is ISIS.
Reference for this Paper: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (5-13-2018) The Family that Slays Together – Mother’s Deadly Day: She Blew Up Herself and Her Two Girls to Murder Christians. The Daily Beast
Beyond Bombs and Bullets: A Comprehensive Approach Needed to Defeat ISIS
Many articles with similar ideas have been written about the current situation with ISIS and what will happen to the terrorist organization in the future. Most of these articles, however, ask incomplete or incorrect questions, which leads to inaccurate assessments of the safety of the world when ISIS is defeated. The articles typically ask questions such as: Can it be claimed that removal of ISIS from the territory in which it operates mean the end to ISIS, or is it only the displacement of terrorism? Shall we celebrate the defeat of ISIS or still be concerned about it? These questions, unfortunately, are incomplete and do not address key elements of the issue. The critical, and more appropriate, questions to ask are: Will the violent and extreme mindset and ideology end when ISIS is defeated? Is it possible that ISIS will transform itself or merges with another terrorist group? Is hard power the solution?
ISIS is just another body into which the violent and extremist ideology of jihadi Salafism has entered. The body dies, but the soul does not. When the body dies, the bad soul will enter another body of a different name. In the case of a defeated ISIS, the organization will die physically but survive as others take up its cause. As long as the violent and extremist ideology and dark soul of ISIS survives, there will always be a body for the soul to wear. The jihadi Salafist ideology will live a new life in a body transformed into another shape and structure.
Failure to ask the right questions means being unable to see and diagnose the problem correctly, intervene correctly, respond correctly, offer the correct solutions, and correctly assess the outcome rightly. In other words, a mistaken first step often leads to subsequent missteps and dire consequences in the long run. For example, when tar is on fire, the expected and first response would be to douse the fire with water; however, the compounds in the tar render water ineffective in putting out the fire and may even make the situation worse.In terms of terrorism, ISIS is the tar, and the commonsense first response would be to use all power available to eradicate the organization.
The literature on terrorism acknowledges that terrorism and radicalization are complex and multidimensional concepts that involve social, psychological, political, financial, and educational issues. Given this mix of factors, could a military and/or law enforcement intervention be the solution to terrorism and radicalization? The answer is “no.” Could the hard power be the solution to some psychological factors (i.e., alienation) or political factors (i.e., political exclusion and oppression) of joining terrorist groups? Again, the answer is “no.” The answer will always be “no” until the solution offered addresses the multiple dimensions of the problem with a comprehensive, but individualized, approach. A reliance on bombs, bullets, and warfare alone will not suffice.
For example, if an individual joins a terrorist group because of a family issue—such as forced marriage, domestic violence, or alienation from close relatives, lack of love and respect among family members—then the approach should focus on family structures and family environments. If an individual whose spouse, children, or extended family members were killed by government security forces longs for revenge and is recruited as a suicide bomber, a military/law enforcement solution alone will not solve the underlying problem. Nor is it the correct approach when an individual has joined a terrorist organization in response to the lack of democratic and human rights. If militants are recruited and exposed to propaganda in virtual environments, then the counterterrorism approach should address those virtual environments to neutralize the terrorist indoctrination. If potential militants are easily swayed by radicals misinterpreting and exploiting religious scriptures because they are poorly educated and lack religious awareness and knowledge, then the counterterrorism approach should focus on counter-narratives and religion-awareness programs. A continued emphasis on tanks, gunfire, and bombs, is a waste of precious money, time, and effort, and lives and, worse yet, justification of terrorist narratives.
Jihadists of Katibat Imam al Bukhari are afraid of the US strike
The US State Department added Central Asian jihadist group Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB) to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorist organizations on March 22, 2018.
As noted in the statement “the Department of State has designated KIB as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes strict sanctions on foreign persons determined to have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. This designation seeks to deny KIB the resources it needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks. Among other consequences, all of the group’s property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the group.”
It is already common knowledge that,KIB is fighting in Syria as part of the al Qaeda-linked rebel coalition Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham. The KIB detachment was created in Afghanistan on the basis of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. KIB also operates in Afghanistan and has pledged loyalty to the Taliban, who are in turn tight allies with al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. After the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2012, KIB, on the recommendation of Al-Qaeda, moved to the province of Idlib and distinguished itself as one of the major rebel groups fighting against the regime of Bashar Assad. A group of the jihadists of the KIB is also based in Afghanistan today and is fighting together with the Taliban. About 200 militants are known to fight in the KIB. The propaganda materials of the group are actively disseminated in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Three days after the decision of the US State Department to include KIB in the list of global terrorist organizations, Shura of the KIB issued its own statementin response. In itsown statement, which was released via Telegram on March 25, 2018, KIB protested their designation as terrorists by the State Department. KIB states that it “was surprised by the American resolution to enlist the Imam al Bukhari Brigade on the world terror list notwithstanding that we do not have ideological or intellectual ties with any faction internationally enlisted.”
It is most interesting that Shura of the KIB, for its protection, used a lot of peaceful terms in their response such as «international law», «rights of freedom», “murderous Assad regime”, “struggle for а decent life of the Syrian people”, etc.
KIB claimed in their response, that their volunteers from many Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan, formed their brigade “as a result of the war’s long duration in Syria and the increasing number of expats.”Shura of the KIB described his mission in the Middle East as protecting the simple and peaceful Syrian people from the bloody regime of Assad and his external sponsors, Hezbollah, Iranian Shiite militants and Russia.
KIB also claimed that they’ve been fighting with the Free Syrian Army to protect civilians against threats like ISIS, “which pushed ISIS to assassinate our previous leader (Sheikh Salahuddin).””The classification of Imam al-Bukhari Brigade by U.S., turns a blind eye on thousands of the Iranian-backed foreign Shiite militias that commit war crimes against the Syrians, and proves that the U.S. applies double standards and it is only concerned about its interests,” KIB continued.The Shura of group vowed to stay the course “in spite of pains and problems whether in our country or by the world order.”
In this regard, it should be noted that the “justifiable arguments” of the KIB that its fighters are fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and precisely because of this fact they should not be included in the list of world terrorist groups does not make sense.Firstly, not only the numerous factions of armed revolutionaries and the fragmentary Syrian opposition are fighting against the regime of Bashar Assad, but also the world jihadist groups ISIS and Al-Qaeda.However, their goals are completely different. If the peaceful Syrian opposition wants to build a democratic state in Syria in the future, then ISIS and Al Qaeda are fighting for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East.Al-Qaeda backed KIB that affiliated with Jabhat al Nusra, completely shares the position of his patrons.
Secondly, radical Salafism and militant Takfirism are the fundamental basis of the jihadi ideology of the KIB.In accordance with the ideological doctrine of KIB that was recently published on its Telegram channel, the group considers its goal the construction of an Islamic state in Central Asia, the overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and the protection and spread of jihadi ideology around the world by force.
Thirdly, jihad is the main tool for KIB in achieving its goals, that is, in building the Islamic Caliphate.In their propaganda materials, KIB leaders urge Muslims to wage jihad against the godless regimes of Central Asia and the West.After President Trump decided the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, KIB leader Abu Yusuf Muhojir posted on his Telegram page a pledge to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque and wage jihad on the West.
The Syrian Liberation Front (SLF) — a joint venture formed by Ahrar al-Sham and the Nur al-Din al-Zanki Movement in February — has joined KIB in denouncing the State Department’s designation as well.In its statement the SLF argues that the KIB is an “independent” faction comprised of Uzbeks who were “forced out of their country” and who now fight against the Assad regime and ISIS. It is known that Ahrar al-Sham is an al Qaeda backed Salafi-jihadi group who fought alongside Al Nusrah Front in the past.The SLF also points to the assassination of KIB leader Sheikh Salahuddinlast year, alleging that ISIS cooperated with “Russian intelligence” in the killing.
In this regard, it should be noted that the assassination of the leader of KIB Sheikh Salahuddin is related to the confrontation between ISIS and al-Qaida, which led to internal fighting among the Central Asian jihadists in Syria.His real name was Akmal Jurabaev and he was born and grew up in the Uzbek town of Namangan. He shared the religious views and Salafi ideology of the Taliban and al Qaeda. On April 27, 2017, during the evening prayer in the mosque of a Syrian city of Idlib, Sheikh Salahuddin was killed by an Uzbek militant who was a member of ISIS. The Islamic State distributed the following statement via Telegram messenger in this regard, “The emir of detachment of Katibat al-Imam Bukhari, Sheikh Salahuddin, was punished according to the Sharia law for all the betrayals he committed.”
The Uzbek militant from Tajikistan, known as Abu Yusuf Muhojir, was appointed the new leader of the group. The Uzbek social networks have characterized him as the distinguished military strategist who has implemented a series of successful operations against the army of Bashar Assad. After the comprehensive analysis of his public speeches in the audio format published on the Telegram, we can draw the following conclusions: Abu Yusuf Muhojirhas the deep religious knowledge, knew the nuances of the Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) and jihad.
It is no accident that in their statements, KIB and SLF appealed to the fact that the leader of the Uzbek jihadists, Sheikh Salahuddin,was assassinated by ISIS militants.Using this argument that Uzbek militants are fighting with ISIS and their leader has fallen by the hands of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi supporters, KIB is trying to justify its terrorist activities and to avoid international persecution in accordance with the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
This is not the first time that the United States has designateda Central Asian jihadist group on the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list.After designation of a terrorist group in the list of global terrorists, the US special services are allowed to carry out operations to eliminate the leaders of those terrorist groups, to take decisive measures to destroy financial schemes and to effectively put international pressure on them.
As is already known, the US State Department has designated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan(IMU) in the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list on September 25, 2000.As a result, the leader of the group Tahir Yuldash (2009) and the military commander of the group Juma Namangoni (2001) were killed as a result of US missile airstrike.
On June 17, 2005, the US State Department designated the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) to the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.The IJU is a splinter faction of the IMU, and a substantial number of its members are from Central Asia.The IJU has been waging jihad in the Afghan-Pakistan region for more than a decade. It maintains close ties with al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The US has killed several top IJU leaders, including its emir, Najmuddin Jalolov, in drone strikes in North Waziristan 2009.
On December 29, 2004, the US State Department designated Uyghur Salafi-jihadi group the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (the Turkestan Islamic Party) to the Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL).As a result, leaders of the Turkestan Islamic Party Hassan Mahsum (2003) and Abdul Shakur al-Turkistani (2012) were killed in US drone strike.
Based on this, we can assume what fate awaits the leaders and militants of the KIB in the near future. The designation of the KIB in the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list testifies to the US Government’s determination to combat the jihadist ideology of Salafism worldwide.This is a tangible support to the governments of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, which are facing a real threat of transnational terrorism.After all, the backbone of the KIB is made up of people from the Ferghana Valley of Central Asia, mainly of Uzbek nationality.
According to the Soufan Group, out of 5,000 people who left Central Asia for Syria and Iraq, about 500 jihadists in the ISIS ranks went back to their homes. But among the returnees, there are almost no militants KIB, Katibat al-Tawhidwal Jihad (KTJ), IJU and TIP, which are affiliated with al Qaeda. After the fall of ISIS, it is the militants linked with the al Qaeda that pose a big threat to the countries of Central Asia. Therefore, the emergence of two theatres of war for al Qaeda backed Central Asian militants in Syria and Afghanistan and the relative ease of transit between these two theatres via Turkey increases the threat that jihadists can return to Central Asia at an opportune moment, such as at a time of political, social or economic crises.This would be dangerous for the regimes of Central Asia.
Therefore, the designation of the KIB by the US government into the list of global terrorist organizations gives a positive impetus to the efforts of the Central Asian countries in respect to counterterrorism.But so far the Central Asian governments have not openly reacted to the initiative of the US State Department. Perhaps such a reaction followed through diplomatic channels, which are closed to the public.
The war in Afghanistan and in the Middle East over the past 17 years has shown that the United States is in the forefront of the fight against transnational terrorism and religious extremism. Therefore, it would be difficult for the Governments of Central Asia to do without US assistance in combating the radical ideology of Salafism and world jihadism.
The Central Asian states are in a bind insofar as there is little they can do to stymie the growth of the KIB, KTJ, IJU and TIP in Syria given their lack of influenceand likely also their lack of intelligence.As a result, the Central Asian governments will likely need to develop comprehensive national security strategies with allies both within the region and abroad to manage the complexities of emerging threats.To achieve results in the fight against jihadism, the Central Asian countries need to solve three main tasks.
First, to intensify cooperation with the United States and the exchange of intelligence data.Successful coordination between law enforcement agencies will help to block the channels of financial, material and military assistance to the jihadist groups from Central Asia, affiliated with al Qaeda.Joint cooperation will contribute to the dismantling of bases, camps and training centers for Central Asian jihadist groups in Syria and Afghanistan, neutralizing prominent leaders and identifying commercial organizations and foundations that subsidize them. The fight against Al Qaeda is a more difficult than with ISIS, as it does not have its own territory, which can be hit. In the fight against Al-Qaeda, the United States has significant anti-terrorist experience, effective intelligence tools and advanced technical capabilities.
Secondly, given the increased role of another Uzbek group Katibat al-Tawhidwal Jihad in the global jihad and their successful terrorist acts in Russia (the explosion of the metro in St. Petersburg) and in Kyrgyzstan (the explosion of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek), the governments of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan should lobby the US to include the KTJ in the list of global terrorist organizations.
Thirdly, for successful international coordination of anti-terrorist efforts, security agencies and special services of the countries of Central Asia need to get rid of block thinking and anti-American sentiment, which is a legacy of the Soviet empire and which is being initiated by Russia.Kremlinis known to consider Central Asia as an area of its influence. Putin is imposing its anti-American ideology on the countries of the region, which impedes the joint struggle against world jihadism. The confrontation between Russia and the West on the activities of the Taliban and the future regime of Bashar al-Assad enable jihadist groups from Central Asia to successfully assimilate into a global jihad. Therefore, the governments of Central Asia must work out their own self-position, which allows them to actively cooperate with the US in the fight against the global jihadist threat in the world and stop being a Putin’s “whipping boy”.
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