Qatar Foes Release 'Terror List' as Diplomatic Row Worsens

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June 8, 2017

Qatar will not change its foreign policy, the country's foreign minister said, even as the diplomatic row in the Persian Gulf region deepened. Sheikh Mohammed bin Adbulrahman Al Thani confirmed his country's position in the wake of an economic and political blockade by several other Gulf nations, who also released a "terror list."

Earlier, Bahrain, Egypt, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates had closed their land, air, and sea links to Qatar, and severed diplomatic relations with that country, all in reference to what they called Qatar's support for terrorist groups. Qatar has for several years now expressed support for or at least has not condemned actions by what other countries term extreme Islamist organizations. The Afghan Taliban, for example, has an office in Doha, the Qatari capital.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have put 59 people and 12 entities on a "terror list." Among the people on the list is Yousef al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; other people on the list are businesspeople, politicians, and senior members of the ruling family. Among the entities on the list are charities funded by Qatar.

The International Air Transport Association has called for an end to the air isolation of Qatar, after hundreds of flights in and out of the country have been canceled or rerouted.

Kuwait has offered to play a mediation role, and that country's leader has met with leaders of other countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in an effort to resolve the dispute. Oman, the other member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has not yet taken a position.

Turkey, which already has a significant number of troops stationed in Qatar, announced plans to send more military personnel to a Turkish airbase there. Both Qatar and Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt and spoke out against the coup that resulted in the ascension of Egypt's current leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Qatar and Turkey have also both expressed public support for other Islamist organizations, including the Palestine-based Hamas and the Islamic State, and have supported the rebels fighting against Syrian forces under President Bashar al-Assad. (Qatar is not the only Gulf nation to have supported the anti-Assad forces, however; Saudi Arabia, too, has sent money and weapons to the Syrian rebels, as have several other prominent countries.)

Qatar and Turkey have also given support to Iran, a position that has put them at odds with the Saudi-led coalition. Iran is Saudi Arabia's arch-enemy in the region. (That conflict is geopolitical but also religious, in that Iran is a majority Shia Muslim country and Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni Muslim country; the two denominations have struggled, sometimes violently, with serious disagreements for more than a thousand years. Qatar is a majority Muslim country as well; most Qatari Muslims are members of the Sunni denomination.) Neither that charge nor the accusation of fostering terrorism is a new one. Ties between Qatar and its Middle Eastern neighbors have been strained for awhile now.

Turkey, however, has also signed a special agreement with Saudi Arabia to strength ties in the economic and political realms.

Qatar is home to America's largest airbase in the region, with more than 10,000 military personnel stationed there. U.S. President Donald Trump has contacted leaders in the region, offering to help mediate.

In a separate but related development, details have emerged of a reported ransom paid by the Qatari government of a large sum of money, as much as $1 billion, to win the release of two dozen people, including members of the royal family, who were kidnapped in Iraq in December 2015. Some media reports said that the ransom was paid to a number of groups, including a Syrian affiliate of the Islamist organization al-Qaeda and Shia militias; Saudi Arabia then expressed anger at the development. 

Meanwhile, Qatar's flagship satellite network, al-Jazeera, remains on the air, in the midst of what it says is a large-scale cyber attack. The network shut down its website for a time after a series of attacks but continued publishing on the website later.

What Qatar said was a major hacking operation–remarks made by the country's leader speaking out against the United States's tense relationship with Iran and to have suggested that U.S. President Donald Trump would not long be the leader of that country. Trump visited the region two weeks ago and made clear his preference for a Saudi-led alliance that was critical of Iran. Qatar's foreign ministry said that the government did not make those remarks and that such reports were manufactured by hackers–was actions taken by Russian hackers, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Qatar had asked America's FBI to investigate. Russia has denied all allegations. Other countries suspicious of the contents of the leader's remarks have suggested that other entities could be behind the hacking. Qatar later said that it had more detail about how the hack was carried out and that the attack had, in part, used a "cyber-bug" in the Qatar News Agency's website. The investigative team determined that the cyber-bug was planted in April, a few weeks before the May 24 remarks attributed to Qatar's leader.

Qatar gets most of its food from neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has closed the border between the two countries. Qatar's government insisted, however, despite the presence of long lines at food stores, that the food supply was enough to feed the population for a year and, further, the government had negotiated contracts with several new food suppliers. One of those was Iran.

Qatar has seen great economic gains in the past 15 years, as money from its oil sales and prestige from its vast oil reserves have created an attraction for workers from many other countries. The country's population in 2003 was 700,000; the most recent population estimate was 2.7 million. Nearly 200,000 Egyptians are thought to be living and working in Qatar; more than that number are thought to be workers from the Philippines.

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