Operating in plain sight for years: that’s the claim behind calls for an investigation into a Qatar state-owned bank in the UK with reported links to terror and extremist groups. The British-registered bank Al Rayan has been linked to at least 15 controversial entities – four of whom were banned by British high street banks – but had accounts with the Qatari institution. The clientele included people linked to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, proscribed a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood was accused of the deaths of 20 people in a car bombing near a cancer hospital in Cairo.
Al Rayan has also been linked to institutions that promote religious extremism via its former chief executive, Sultan Choudhury. He served as an unpaid director for Al Kauthar Institute, an organisation that promoted controversial speakers, including one who said female genital mutilation was as natural as clipping fingernails.
An increasing number of British MPs and officials called for an investigation into Al Rayan’s business dealings, revealed by The Times newspaper together with the Henry Jackson Society and just the latest in a series of revelations involving Qatar’s murky ties with terror groups. In June it was revealed that Qatari financier Khalifa Al Subaiy spent years channelling funds to Al Qaeda from Doha, despite being on a UN Security Council blacklist. Such revelations are unsurprising for our readers as these pages have long warned of Doha’s funding of extremism. In April, two French journalists published a book titled Qatar Papers – How the Emirate Finances Islam in France and Europe, which collated evidence proving that Doha had been funding dubious organisations in a bid to further the Muslim Brotherhood’s reach throughout Europe. According to the authors, a total of Dh296 million financed more than 140 projects in seven European countries. The Qatari government also paid hundreds of millions of dollars to militias designated terrorist organisations to release 25 hostages. Among the groups paid ransom money was Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, formerly known as Al Nusra Front, the affiliate of Al Qaeda in northern Syria, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani.
From Syria to France and now the UK, Qatar has repeatedly funded terror groups that have wreaked havoc across the Middle East and beyond. Yet ostensibly, state officials expect to engage in diplomacy and wield influence on the world stage, while continuing such illicit activities behind closed doors. Under counter-terrorism laws, the UK can freeze accounts linked to terrorism but this week, Al Rayan was still active, with operations in full swing. Qatar’s high-profile investments internationally, which include France’s Paris Saint-Germain football club and the UK department store Harrods, must not deter European states from investigating its ties to terror groups. Their oxygen supply must be cut off at the earliest opportunity, because the price paid for not doing so will be much higher.