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$1 Billion Ransom Paid to Iran, Al-Qaeda Prompted Arab States to Break With Qatar

Qatar paid up to $1 billion in ransom to Iranian figures and affiliated Shia militias as well as to al-Qaeda linked jihadist groups in return for the release of members of its royal family kidnapped in Iraq, the Financial Times reported Monday.

The government in Doha secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari falconry party in southern Iraq and 50 militants captured by jihadists in Syria. According to local sources with intimate knowledge of the deal, around $700 million was paid to Iranian security officials and Shia proxy Kata’eb Hizbollah, while $200 million to $300 million went to radical Sunni Islamist groups in Syria, most of that to al-Qaeda affiliates Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham.

The transaction is thought to be one of the triggers behind the dramatic rift that emerged between Qatar and other Arab countries. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain on Monday announced they were cutting diplomatic ties and transport links with the government in Doha, amid accusations of fueling extremism and terrorism.

“The ransom payments are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said one Gulf commentator.

“If you want to know how Qatar funds jihadis, look no further than the hostage deal,” said a Syrian opposition figure who had previously negotiated with al-Qaeda affiliated groups on behalf of hostages. “And this isn’t the first — it is one of a series since the beginning of the war,” he added.

Doha has a history of supporting various radical Islamist groups and movements across the Middle East. Senior Muslim Brotherhood members, Hamas leaders, and al-Qaeda fixers reside in Doha. The Taliban even has an unofficial “embassy” in the country. Doha has also bankrolled with hundreds of millions radical Islamist opposition groups in Libya and Syria, which has angered its neighbors. And to Qatar’s critics, the hostage deal was further evidence of its role in sponsoring extremists.

Doha has denied charges of sponsoring terrorist groups and has dismissed the boycott by its neighbors as “founded on allegations that have no basis in fact.” It refused to comment on the hostage deal, but a source close to the Qatari government confirmed that “payments” were made.

[Photo: Jim Mattis / Flickr ]