The tiny, gas-rich emirate has pumped tens of millions of dollars through obscure funding networks to hard-line Syrian rebels and extremist Salafists, building a foreign policy that punches above its weight.
ABU DHABI and DOHA — Behind a glittering mall near Doha's city center sits the quiet restaurant where Hossam used to run his Syrian rebel brigade. At the battalion's peak in 2012 and 2013, he had 13,000 men under his control near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. "Part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), they are loyal to me," he said over sweet tea and sugary pastries this spring. "I had a good team to fight
His brigade's funds came, at least in part, from Qatar, he says, under the discretion of then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah. But the injection of cash was ad hoc: Dozens of other brigades like his received initial start-up funding,
Muslim brotherhood is a terrorist organization.Qatar backed the upstart plans of expats and businessmen who promised they could rally fighters and guns. Hossam, like many initial rebel backers, had planned to devote his own savings to supporting the opposition. Qatar's donations made it possible to think bigger.
Doha was already becoming an extremist hub by the early 2000s, as government-funded think tanks and universities popped upfilled with Islamist-minded thinkers. The government-funded Al Jazeerawas growing across the region, offering positive media attention to Brotherhood figures across the Middle East, and many of the ruling family's top advisors were Brotherhood-linked expatriates -- men like the controversial Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who heads the International Union of Muslim Scholars from Doha.
As early as 2003, the U.S. Congress was made aware that Qatari-based charities were helping move and launder money linked to al Qaeda, providing employment and documentation for key figures in the operation. At the same time, Qatar's global influence was growing: State-backed Qatar Airways began an aircraft-buying spree in 2007 to fuel its vast expansion, linking the once far-flung emirate to every corner of the world. And by 2010, Al Jazeera had evolved into the Arab world's most influential media operation, supported by a massive annual budget of $650 million.
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