Analysis: Qatar embraces admitted al Qaeda operative

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Members of Qatar’s al Murra tribe are throwing a party, and the people of Qatar are cordially invited. The “public invitation” for the party, which will be held down the street from a stadium for the 2022 World Cup, celebrates the return home of Ali Saleh Kahlah al Marri, an admitted al Qaeda sleeper agent released early from federal prison last week. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Former al Qaeda operative freed, sent home to Qatar.]

The prime minister of Qatar has even reportedly spoken to al Marri on the phone, congratulating al Marri on his release. Several alleged photos of the conversation have been posted on social media sites. One of the photos can be seen above.

Al Marri pled guilty in 2009 to obeying instructions from the mastermind of 9/11 to “enter the United States no later than September 10, 2001” and await further directions. According to President George W. Bush, al Marri pledged his loyalty in person to Osama bin Laden and cased such US targets as “water reservoirs, the New York Stock Exchange, and United States military academies.”

However, shortly after his release from a US prison, several prominent Qatari personalities welcomed al Marri home with open arms. In the days that followed, others have continued to heap praise on al Marri, with a longtime board member of Al Jazeera declaring on her personal Twitter page that “we congratulate the family of Ali bin Kahlah al-Marri on his return.”

Members of Ali al Marri’s immediate family evidently revealed they were “delighted” when Qatar’s prime minister phoned the former al Qaeda sleeper agent to ask how he was doing. This was after al Marri’s nephew revealed his uncle was “greeted by representatives from the Qatari interior and foreign ministries.” The adulation has left al Marri in “high spirits,” his nephew said.

The nature of al Marri’s release raises serious questions about whether or not he should have been repatriated to Qatar, a country notorious for turning a blind eye to terrorists and terror financiers in its midst.

According to Fox News, the US Justice Department confirmed Ali al Marri was released from prison prior to completing his full sentence because of “time served.” He may also have received credit for good behavior.

According to publicly available materials from al Marri’s 2009 civilian court case, the original terms of his plea bargain were that he could have been deported to either Saudi Arabia or Qatar, since he held citizenship in those two places. Indeed, he traveled to the United States on a Saudi – not Qatari – passport.

Another detail from the 2009 court documents: al Marri spent nearly a decade working in Qatari finance, including as a “key person” in the audit department of Qatar Islamic Bank and then as a senior auditor for the government of Qatar. By deporting al Marri to Qatar – a more permissive jurisdiction for terror finance where he is treated like a celebrity, has many friends in the financial sector, and where his brother is apparently once again active in radical networks – the US missed an opportunity to send him to Saudi Arabia instead. Of course, this would have been an imperfect solution, as Saudi Arabia has had difficulty keeping tabs on known al Qaeda operatives repatriated from the US.

This would be less of a concern if al Marri was truly rehabilitated. But at his sentencing in 2009, the federal judge with access to classified files on al Marri concluded otherwise: “I believe that the risk of your reassociating with those who brought you here to begin with, I believe that’s high. I believe that based on everything I’ve read and hear that you do not truly regret what you did and I believe you would do it again after you go home.”

However, the US may still have some constructive policy options moving forward. A widely overlooked feature of al Marri’s sentence was that he was ordered to undergo three years of probation after his release from prison. Although US officials cannot enforce this clause themselves, they would be justified to publicly call on Doha to do the same.

US officials could publish the terms of the bilateral agreement under which al Marri was reportedly released. When the US kept the terms of Jarallah al Marri’s release private in 2008, Qatar violated its word. This time, perhaps public scrutiny can persuade Doha to keep its promises on Jarallah’s big brother.

Washington could also call out the Qataris for welcoming an admitted al Qaeda terrorist with open arms. Failing to speak out would reward Doha for encouraging extremism in its midst.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He specializes on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

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1 Comment

  • David says:

    If Qatar is happy having Al Qaeda terrorists running around free in that country, then it is not safe for us to allow Qatari citizens to travel here. We must not issue any more visas for travel from Qatar to here, and holders of Qatari passports must be turned back at the border. That is the only reasonable response to their behavior. That, and a whole lot more, like CIA assassinations of Al Qaeda figures in Qatar, etc.
    If they want to play that game, then let’s play. We can’t pretend that they are friends anymore.


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