The imposition of the blockade on Qatar by the Saudi-led bloc last year had a negative impact on regional counterterrorism co-operation, according to a new report issued by the US Department of State yesterday.
The report on terrorism in 2017 also highlights the co-operation between the US and Qatar in counterterrorism, notably the signing of a counterterrorism memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries in July last year to increase co-operation.
Overall, the report said global terror attacks fell by 23% and deaths due to terrorism dropped by 27% in 2017 as compared to 2016.
“An unexpected break in ties with Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in June (2017) had a negative impact on regional counterterrorism co-operation,” the report said in its overview for the Middle East and North Africa.
In the Qatar-specific section, the report notes that the US and Qatar significantly increased counterterrorism co-operation in 2017 under the counterterrorism MoU signed by the US Secretary of State and HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in July.
Under the MoU, Qatar and the US set forth mutually accepted means of increasing information sharing, disrupting terrorism financing flows and intensifying counterterrorism activities.
At the November 8, 2017, US-Qatar Counterterrorism Dialogue, the two governments affirmed the progress made on implementing the MoU and committed to expand bilateral counterterrorism co-operation.
“Qatar is an active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, is active in all Defeat-ISIS Coalition working groups and has provided significant support in facilitating US military operations in the region. Qatar hosts approximately 10,000 US servicemen and women on two military installations critical to coalition efforts. Security services capable of monitoring and disrupting terrorist activities have maintained the status quo,” the report said.
In July last year, the Qatari government promulgated Decree No 11 of 2017, which amended the 2004 Law on Combating Terrorism. The amendment set out definitions of terrorism-related activities, penalties for terrorism-related offences and the establishment of a national designations list. In October, the US government led a workshop for relevant Qatari authorities on the planned establishment of a domestic designations regime.
The report continued: “The State Security Bureau maintains an aggressive posture towards monitoring internal extremist and terrorism-related activities. The Ministry of Interior (MoI) and Internal Security Force are well-positioned to respond to incidents with rapid reaction forces that routinely engage in structured counterterrorism training and exercises. The Office of Public Prosecution is tasked with prosecuting all crimes, including any related to terrorism, and plays a significant role in terrorism investigations.
“Qatar maintains an inter-agency National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NATC) composed of representatives from more than 10 government agencies. The NATC is tasked with formulating Qatar’s counterterrorism policy, ensuring interagency co-ordination, fulfilling Qatar’s obligations to counter terrorism under international conventions, and participating in multilateral conferences on terrorism. US officials met regularly with the chairman of the NATC to discuss implementation of the counterterrorism MoU and overall counterterrorism co-operation.”
As a result of the counterterrorism MoU, the US and Qatar significantly increased information sharing, including on identities of known and suspected terrorists, the report stressed. Aviation security information sharing also increased, as new protocols were agreed to and established. During 2017, the MoI authorities co-operated with the US Department of Homeland Security officials to enhance screening capabilities of the millions of travellers who pass through Doha’s Hamad International Airport each year.
US technical assistance to Qatari law enforcement and judicial agencies also increased as a result of the counterterrorism MoU.
“In June, Qatar expelled six Hamas members, including Saleh al-Arouri, one of the founders of the Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades,” the report said.
Qatar is a member of the Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. In 2017, Qatar commenced preparations for the 2019 MENAFATF Mutual Evaluation, including establishing an interagency task force, formalising co-operation with the International Monetary Fund and intensifying co-ordination with US counterparts.
Qatar is a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a US-GCC initiative announced during President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017.
In 2017, Qatar passed updated terrorism financing legislation. Decree No 11 of 2017 defined terrorism financing-related activities, laid out penalties and established a domestic designations list. Qatari legislation requires the Office of Public Prosecution to freeze the funds of individuals and organisations included on the UN Security Council ISIS and Al Qaeda sanctions list. Qatar Central Bank works with financial institutions to confirm asset-freezing compliance with respect to these UN obligations.
“Qatar deepened co-operation with the US on combatting terrorism financing during 2017. In October, Qatar joined the US and other TFTC countries in co-ordinated domestic designations of individuals and entities associated with AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIS-Yemen,” the report noted.
Two UN-designated financiers who were acquitted in a 2015-2016 trial were placed under arrest and imprisoned in July 2017. The Qatari Attorney-General initiated proceedings to appeal the prior acquittals. Additionally, Qatari authorities also placed under arrest two other terrorism financiers previously convicted in the 2015-2016 trial.
In July, Qatari authorities took sweeping measures to monitor and restrict the overseas activities of Qatari charities, requiring all such activity to be conducted via one of the two approved charities. Authorities also significantly increased procedures to monitor private donations. The sector is overseen by the Regulatory Authority for Charitable Activities, in co-ordination with the central bank and law-enforcement agencies.
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