The State Department issued its annual Country Reports on Terrorism yesterday, and while the document was couched in diplomatic language, it identified significant areas in which counterterrorism efforts by America’s Gulf allies are coming up short. Indeed, Foggy Bottom implicitly or explicitly flagged Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait for failing to stamp out terrorist finance within their borders.
Of the three, only Saudi Arabia was commended for taking “serious and effective efforts” against terror funding. Yet in the same paragraph, the report questioned how effective those efforts have been, confirming that actors in Saudi Arabia continue to fundraise for “regional al-Qa’ida affiliates,” even if such activity now happens illicitly and in secret. The report particularly noted violent extremist fundraising from Saudi sources over social media as well as efforts to exploit the hajj and umrah pilgrimages for moving cash couriers to finance terrorism.
The report’s Saudi section also cited the kingdom over religious incitement. For example, it said official Saudi textbooks still contained “derogatory and intolerant” references to Shiite Muslims and to non-Muslims. (Riyadh had assured US officials the offending passages would be completely excised by 2014 – and before that, by 2008 – but the new report concluded that the promised revision of the Saudi curriculum still “has not been completely implemented.”)
The report also acknowledged that several privately-funded Saudi television stations continue to broadcast “sectarian hatred and intolerance.” For example, when a Saudi minister tried to revoke the license of such a channel in the wake of a 2014 bombing by the Islamic State, then-King Abdullah relieved him of duty within hours.
Also that year, Washington’s top official for combating terrorist finance identified Qatar and Kuwait as “permissive jurisdictions” for terrorist fundraising. While Foggy Bottom’s report noted measures that both states have taken since then, it stopped short of rolling back such criticism.
Instead, the State Department declared that individuals and entities in both countries continued to serve as a source of financial support to terrorist groups, “particularly regional al-Qa’ida affiliates such as the Nusrah Front” in the case of Qatar. As for Kuwait, the report similarly noted that the regime had not taken action last year against a Kuwaiti national under UN sanctions on charges of financing the Nusrah Front.
To Qatar’s credit, the new report indicates that Doha has made “efforts to prosecute” certain terror financiers, closely echoing language attributed to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew earlier this year. However, this repetition of careful, couched language suggests that Qatar may not have actually pressed charges against any of these individuals, let alone arrested or convicted them.
In fact, the report reveals that Qatar froze the assets and imposed travel bans on ‘Abd al-Latif al-Kawari and Sa’d al-Ka’bi, two Qatari citizens sanctioned by the UN in Sept. 2015 on charges of fundraising for al Qaeda or its Syrian branch. However, State’s report does not say whether either Qatari has been arrested, a striking omission given that an American official reportedly complained last year that Qatar “has not arrested” either Ka’bi or Kawari.
President Obama has delivered mixed messages on the Gulf states’ role in the fight against terror, praising their cooperation at an April summit in Riyadh shortly after suggesting that some of them were counterterrorism “free riders” in an interview with the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the State Department seems to confirm that several Gulf states still have quite a distance to go.