July 15, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 296

Qatar: The 'Stealth' Pro-Islamist Subverter

July 15, 2021 | By Yigal Carmon and A. Smith*
Qatar | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 296

Afghan Taliban deputy emir Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar meets with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Aal-Thani on September 13, 2020.[1] (source: Qatar News Agency)

In the inner sancta of their palaces, the Qatari royal family may soon celebrate the successful overthrow of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan by the Taliban, whom the Qatari royal family have supported for many years. Qatar has played this stealth role while masquerading over the past two years as a mediator between the democratically elected government of Afghanistan and the Taliban which, thanks to Qatari support,[2] has always had money enough to pay the Taliban fighters better than the U.S.-supported Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).[3] A 2009 cable signed by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton read: "Qatar's overall level of [counter-terrorism] cooperation with the U.S. is considered the worst in the region."[4]

Former U.S. President Donald Trump was the one who allowed Qatar to play the role of mediator and to broker the February 29, 2020 agreement. But this agreement, ironically enough, was not at all between the two Afghan parties – the democratically elected government and the Taliban – it was an agreement between the Taliban and the United States, while the legitimate government of Afghanistan was excluded from this agreement by the Taliban and the United States together, both pressuring President Ghani to share power in the position that he had won in democratic elections, which the Taliban tried and failed to subvert by violence.[5]

The Biden administration has endorsed fully Trump's policy of embracing Qatar as the major mediator[6] and pressuring President Ghani to surrender the authority he won in the elections, as shown in a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to President Ghani that Afghan news outlet Tolo News published on March 8.[7] The Biden administration further endorsed Trump's Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad as a non-partisan mediator even though he was known for his long-time forthcoming approach to the Taliban.[8] In the past, Khalilzad has been more involved with the Taliban, meeting with them in luxury hotels in the late 1990s to discuss matters including "their shared enthusiasm for a proposed multibillion-dollar pipeline deal" and presenting them as a palatable alternative to Iran in a 1996 editorial. Furthermore, the Biden administration copied the Trump administration's self-defeating tactic of demanding only a "reduction of violence" for a short period instead of demanding a ceasefire.

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar

It has been known for years that Qatar supports Islamist and jihadi terrorist organizations and movements even as it simultaneously hosts the American CENTCOM base for its own survival interests.[9] As Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism advisor to Presidents Clinton and H.W. Bush, put it: "We always knew Qatar was trouble,"[10] but little did the American administrations know, because Qatar was directly involved in enabling the 9/11 attacks. Yet both the Trump and Biden administrations prefer to ignore this.

Qatar gave sanctuary and protection to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM) in the Water Department of the Doha municipality. KSM was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was involved in planning what is now called the "Bojinka" plot to bomb 11 U.S. commercial airliners over the Pacific Ocean in 1994-1995, in planning to assassinate the pope as well as former presidents Carter and Clinton,[11] and was connected to the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. According to Richard Clarke, when the U.S. government went to arrest KSM in Qatar in 1996, and gave advance notice to the Qatari emir alone, KSM vanished within hours, only to reappear within five years as the mastermind of 9/11. As Clarke himself wrote: "Had the Qataris handed [KSM] over to us as requested in 1996, the world might have been a very different place."[12]

According to testimony before a March 11, 2003 hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee On Financial Services,[13] the Qatar Charitable Society (QCS), a major Qatari charity with access to the top levels of the Qatari government, has played a major role in funding jihadi groups including Al-Qaeda.[14] In September 2001, the month of the 9/11 attacks, QCS's official newsletter ran an article titled "Jihad Is The Solution!" quoting Quran 9:41, which reads: "You shall readily mobilize, light or heavy, and strive with your money and your lives in the cause of Allah. This is better for you, if you only knew.'"[15]

QCS was first named as a major financial conduit for Al-Qaeda in trial proceedings surrounding the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Former Al-Qaeda member and government witness Jamal Al-Fadl testified how he had worked closely with QCS in 1993 and said of QCS director Dr. Abdullah Mohamd Yousef: "The guy [Yousef], he runs a group, he is one of our membership, one of the Al-Qaeda group membership, and also he is [Sudanese] Islamic National Front membership, and he was in Afghanistan. So he helped our people for the travel documents, and also if some money come from the Gulf area to the organization, he gives the group some money from that money."[16]

A more recent posting on the website of QCS, which has since changed its name to Qatar Charity, reads: "Sadaqa [charity] for the public interest of Muslims, such as building mosques where they are needed, and spending in the field of jihad for the sake of Allah Almighty, is rewarded in a way that no one knows but Allah Almighty, who said [in Quran 61:10-11]: 'Oh believers! Shall I guide you to an exchange which will save you from a painful punishment? [It is to] have faith in Allah and His Messenger, and perform jihad for the sake of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is best for you, if only you knew.'"[17]

In Gaza, Qatar has played the same role it did with the Taliban in Afghanistan. With the government of Israel playing the role of the United States, allowing Qatar to push, according to official Qatari sources, over $1.5 billion to Hamas, ostensibly for the welfare of the population, but in reality to build itself up as a military power with 15,000 missiles and an elaborate network of underground tunnels. Here again, Qatar played the role of the counterfeit mediator to bring about some kind of temporary peace after the two sides had exhausted themselves in an exchange of bombings and missile strikes. After the war, the new government of Israel had cut the Qataris out of the process for some time. Qatar, a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, was even ready to turn a blind eye to Egypt's fight against the Muslim Brotherhood in order to earn Egypt's goodwill so that Qatar could continue to support Hamas through the Egypt-Gaza crossing.

In Sudan, the Qatari government channel Al-Jazeera, which serves the Muslim Brotherhood organization as a propaganda mouthpiece, tried recently to incite huge demonstrations against the new pro-Western democratic government in favor of the Islamists headed by Islamist dictator Omar Al-Bashir, who is now on his way to trial at the ICC. This is just one of the instances in which Qatar has played this stealth role of pro-Islamist subversion. This time they failed – but they will continue to support the Islamists wherever they can.

Al-Jazeera, the official Qatari-owned TV channel, functions as an organizing and recruitment tool for jihadi terror organizations. In addition to broadcasting Osama bin Laden's speeches, on July 10, 2001, two months before 9/11, Al-Jazeera aired a special program about bin Laden on which the show's host and a majority of callers praised bin Laden. Further, Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu-Gheith was allowed to call in and give a long speech, presenting six points and calling for thousands of Muslims to join Al-Qaeda, saying: "I would like to say that today the nation needs, first of all, 12,000 young Mujahideen recruited to defend the religion."[18] Al-Jazeera correspondent Tayseer Aloni was sentenced in Spain in 2005 to seven years in prison for smuggling money to Al-Qaeda.[19]

Al-Jazeera allowed a sheikh, who is a supporter of the Islamic State, to pledge allegiance in a live broadcast to then Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.[20] It allowed the terrorist Anis Al-Naqqash, to call for terror attacks against American oil installations, also in a live broadcast.[21] First in 2013, and then again in 2015 for a full two hours The channel twice interviewed Muhammad Al-Joulani, leader of the Jabhat Al-Nusra organization, which split off from Al-Qaeda in Syria.[22] According to a lawsuit recently lodged by Syrian opposition elements in London against the Qatari regime, the emirate also financed the Jabhat Al-Nusra organization with hundreds of millions of dollars.[23]

One of the Muslim Brotherhood's most prominent leaders, Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, has been operating for years from Qatar and under its aegis. Qatar also hosted Indian Deobandi Muslim scholar and supporter of the Islamic State Salman Al-Nadwi after he had been expelled from Oman.[24] In May 2021, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that then Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Aal Thani had in 2012 paid $57 million to an armed group in Syria for the release of 57 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operatives.[25]

Qatari Emir Aal Thani embraces Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi.

Qatar's billions have propped up the Islamist regime of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, providing debt swaps and cash, including an estimated $25 billion in investments in recent years,[26] that have cushioned Erdoğan from the political and economic consequences of his own policies and diluted the effect of American sanctions. This support facilitates President Erdoğan's military expeditions and conquests in Nagorno-Karabakh, Northern Syria, Northern Iraq, and Libya, as well as allowing his government to hold on to popularity domestically by keeping the country's faltering economy from total collapse. It was known to all media that for years, foreign fighters that travelled from all over the world to join the Islamic State were passing through Turkey. After Turkey occupied Northern Syria, the areas under its control became a safe haven, ruled and protected by Turkey, for jihadi terrorists from Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and other groups.

The scope of Qatar's "stealth" pro-Islamist subversion, which is not that stealthy, is astonishing. This very small very wealthy state is a great patron of a specific type of Islamism – the jihadi type. Why, then, does the United States countenance such a level of bankrolling by Qatar of regional bad actors who are, uniformly, open opponents of the United States? Why would the U.S. support such an agent of anti-Western and anti-American subversion – against its own interests – in destabilizing pro-American democratic regimes? Indeed, the Qataris did not create the Taliban. Rather, it was Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that created, equipped, and guided it militarily against the United States, while still enjoying for decades the status of being America's ally. This may be true, but it was only thanks to Qatar that the Taliban could grow to their current strength of being Afghanistan's strongest power.

Furthermore, the existence of the U.S. Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar buys Doha some American forbearance, but this is only because the U.S. military leadership does not understand the strategic situation. They apparently are convinced that Qatar is doing the United States a favor by hosting the base. The truth is that the U.S. could have the base in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia or the UAE, for free. It is in fact America that defends the very survival of Qatar by maintaining its base there. One also cannot discount Qatari influence operations directly inside the United States itself, buying friends and influence in the Acela Corridor where Washington's elite moves and lives.[27]

There is an additional element at play here. While Qatar supports out-right terrorists, including those from Al-Qaeda and ISIS, it often supports organizations, states, and individuals who are extremists but fall short, just barely, of Western terrorist designations. And the whole way that Qatar works – using money to buy influence to advance an ideological and political agenda – is something often discounted by Washington. We are more comfortable with the threat of bombs and drones than the threat of narratives and ideas. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States, and the West in general, has been uncomfortable with the ideological dimensions of politics and diplomacy. This Western unmooring and lack of confidence is a sharp contrast to the assured and aggressive ideological work not only from Doha, but from Erdoğan, Putin, and Xi.[28] However, just because we do not fully understand the consequences of hostile ideological soft power and are hesitant in our response to it should not blind us to the fact that this subversion is happening. Yet the case of Qatar stands out because it does not only support anti-American Islamist movements, but also supports violent terrorist organizations who have wreaked havoc in America and spilled a lot of American blood. How long can such a policy continue?

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI. A. Smith is Director of the MEMRI Turkish Media Studies Project.  


[1], September 14, 2020.

[2] While Qatar has been a financial supporter of the Taliban, the group is originally a Pakistani creation.

[3], July 26, 2010.

[4], December 30, 2009.

[5], February 29, 2020.

[6], April 30, 2021

[7], March 8, 2021;, accessed July 12, 2021.

October 7, 1996., November 23, 2001.

[10], July 6, 2017.

[11], accessed July 9, 2021;
CHRG-110hhrg38765/html/CHRG-110hhrg38765.htm,November 8, 2007;, June 9, 2009.

[12], July 6, 2017.

AQ6AEwAnoECAUQAg#v=onepage&q=qatar&f=false, accessed July 13, 2021.

[14] The testimony said that Qatar was one of three charities that "served a critical role in the Arab-Afghan terrorist infrastructure by laundering money originating from bank accounts belonging to bin Laden and his sympathetic patrons in the Arabian Gulf, providing employment and travel documents to Al-Qaida worldwide, and helping 'to move funds to areas where Al-Qaeda was carrying out operations... Standing orders were left by bin Laden to keep all transactions involving the charitable groups in cash only; by this method, these NGOS were manipulated as a secret laundry to make Al-Qaida's financial network virtually invisible. The charities would then create false documentation for the orphans or starving refugees. In fact, according to some former employees of these organizations, upwards of 50% of their total funding was secretly diverted directly to Al-Qaida and Usama bin Laden." Jihadi leader Abdullah Azzam was a member of the Islamic Coordination Council (ICC), a coordinating body of Muslim charitable groups of which QCS was a part. QCS is reportedly funded primarily from official sources and has "strong and longstanding fundamentalist contacts within the Qatari government itself." In October 2002, according to the testimony, then Emir of Qatar Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani and Qatari Foreign Minister Shaykh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Aal Thani invited then QCS President Shaykh Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Aal Thani to join them in a meeting with then United Nations High Commissioner For Relief Ruud Lubbers.

AnoECAUQAg#v=onepage&q=qatar&f=false, accessed July 13, 2021.

noECAUQAg#v=onepage&q=qatar&f=false, accessed July 13, 2021.

+&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us, accessed July 13, 2021.

[19], March 12, 2012.

[22] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1528 Al-Jazeera Unmasked: Political Islam As A Media Arm Of The Qatari State, August 12, 2020.

[23], June 4, 2021.

[25], May 3, 2021.

[27] In August 2018, Brookfield Property Partners, a company in which the Qatari government is the second largest investor, took a 99-year lease, paying the full rent in advance, on the heavily indebted 666 Fifth Avenue, which is owned by the family of Jared Kushner. In December 2020, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) started an investigation into whether Jared Kushner "advised Donald Trump to support a blockade against Qatar while Kushner Companies was seeking a billion-dollar bailout from Qatari, and possibly other Middle Eastern officials, for the property at 666 Fifth Avenue.", August 3, 2018;, December 9, 2020.

[28] It is worth nothing that Qatar also bought two SY400 short-range ballistic missile systems from China in 2017. A Chinese military media outlet also reported that China had been training personnel from the armed forces of Qatar, among other countries., February 1, 2018;, December 17, 2017; see MEMRI special dispatch no. 9443, Popular Chinese Military Media Outlet 'Military Express': 'China's Training Of Officers For Foreign Armies Is An Important Means Of Realizing Its Foreign Strategy', July 13, 2021.

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