Qatari authorities have prosecuted five people accused by the US and the United Nations of financing terrorists - and who were also named by Saudi Arabia and its allies as part of the bloc’s justification for isolating the tiny Gulf nation since last week.
The five men appear in US Treasury sanctions lists and were tried in 2015 and 2016, according to two Western officials and a Qatari official, who have direct knowledge of the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorised to disclose the information publicly. The legal action wasn’t announced to avoid embarrassing the men’s families - some of whom are among the most prominent in the country, the Qatari official said.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries severed ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the gas-rich country of funding Islamic extremists and cozying up to Iran. The decision came soon after a visit to Riyadh by US President Donald Trump, who said last week Qatar was a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.” Qatar has repeatedly denied the accusations and called the Saudi-led action an “illegal siege.”
The revelation of these prosecutions now is unlikely to sway the Saudi-led coalition, which last week named 59 individuals and 12 organizations it considers to be involved in terrorism and most, it said, with ties to Qatar. They include Egypt-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar Charity, which implements aid projects with UN agencies. Qatar has dismissed the list as politically motivated.
Some of the men were put in jail or under house arrest in Qatar, while others were acquitted but are banned from travel and are under 24-hour surveillance, the officials said. Qatar is also bringing charges against two more people included on both the US and Saudi alliance lists, they said.
The assets of those convicted have been frozen, the officials said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has made progress in halting financial support for and expelling terrorists, “but he must do more and he must do it quickly.”
Critics, including conservative think tanks such as the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, say trials should be publicised to serve as a deterrent, and to provide transparency to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
Four of the five men prosecuted in Qatar have allegedly moved cash for al-Qaeda since the early 2000s, according to US and UN statements. Recidivism has been an issue, with some who were arrested and released by Qatari authorities in the past repeating the crimes. One is accused of providing funds to Iran-based al-Qaeda operatives from 2009 to 2012.
Qatar has maintained that it “does not, and has not, provided funding for terrorists,” government spokesman Saif Al Thani said last week.
But whether by choice or because of the Saudi-led action, there are signs Qatar is becoming more open about the actions it is taking on men suspected of financing terrorism. Asked about one of the men at a press conference in Paris on Monday, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani confirmed the steps taken.
The man “has been prosecuted in the state of Qatar, by the law of the state of Qatar, and he’s on the international list, and he’s sanctioned by the state of Qatar,” Al Thani said.
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