Reported Qatari complicity in Somalia attack causes outcry

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Reported Qatari complicity in an extremist attack in Somalia revealed by an audio recording obtained by the New York Times has caused an outcry on social media.

In the audio recording, Khalifa Kayed al-Muhanadi – a businessman linked to the Qatari emir – tells Qatari ambassador Hassan bin Hamza Hashem that “our friends were behind the last bombings,” referring to a suicide bombing in Bosaso in northern Somalia which wounded at least eight people in May.

Nervana Mahmoud, a doctor and independent commentator who was featured by the BBC as one of its 100 women of the year in 2013, tweeted she was “Listening with horror at this intercepted call between #Qatar’s agent and Qatar’s Ambassador to Somalia.”

Many online commentators noted that this incident was the latest in Qatar’s extensive catalog of supporting terrorism, with some using the hashtag #Qatar_terrorism_reaches_Somalia.

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, tweeted: “It had been a while since fresh evidence of Qatari funding for terrorism. I was wondering if they had turned a corner or had become more careful. Turns out, none of the above. Same regime. Same tactics. Same terror finance.”

According to a poll shared by the unverified Twitter account Somali Tales, 53 percent of respondents are not satisfied with the Qatari government’s version of events.

Somali Tales also shared a video under the caption “The #Somali community is demonstrating against the terrorist acts of #Qatar in #Somalia.” The video showed people holding Somali flags and banners reading “Now Qatar must leave our country.”

On Tuesday, the director of Qatar’s communications office Saif bin Ahmed al-Thani shared a 9 July official statement to the New York Times denying the allegations and saying that they “do not meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.”

In his tweet, al-Thani added that he was looking forward to discussing the matter further with the New York Times. According to al-Thani, Qatar had previously demonstrated its transparency in roundtable discussions with the New York Times.

Twitter users largely responded with skepticism, with several suggesting that al-Thani’s statement sounded like bribery.

Others accused Qatar of funding terrorism. “Bin Habas,” who has 116,000 followers, alleged designated terrorists live freely in Qatar.

During the phone call at the heart of the controversy, Al-Muhanadi tells his country’s diplomatic representative to Somalia that the attack was part of Qatar’s strategy to remove the UAE’s influence from Somalia, saying the attack was executed “to make Dubai people run away from there.”

“Let them kick out the Emiratis, so they don’t renew the contracts with them, and I will bring the contract here to Doha,” al-Muhanadi adds.

The Qatari businessman also claims he is connected to a family member of Somalia’s president and would help in the transfer of contracts from UAE-owned DP World onto Qatar.

The Dubai state-owned port operator DP World has a presence in the Horn of Africa. It launched last October a $101 million project to expand a port in the breakaway region of Somaliland. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 and has acted as a de-facto independent state since then but is not internationally recognized.

Gunmen shot and killed a DP World subsidiary company manager in Somalia’s semiautonomous region of Puntland in February, with the al-Shabab militant group claiming responsibility for the attack according to Reuters.

When contacted by the New York Times, the Qatari ambassador denied he knew al-Muhanadi and cut the phone call short. Al-Muhanadi, however, told the New York Times that he was school friends with the ambassador.

“I am a retired man and a trader … I do not represent any government,” al-Muhanadi was quoted as saying.

The statement released by Qatar’s communications office echoes al-Muhandi’s plea.

“Khalifa al Muhannadi is not, and has never been, an advisor of any sort to the government of the State of Qatar. He does not represent the State of Qatar and he had no right to comment on behalf of the government. We will be investigating this individual and he will be held responsible for his comments, which we reiterated do not represent our principles,” the statement read.

Al-Shabab has continued to carry out attacks in Somalia.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed six people and badly wounded the mayor of Mogadishu in an attack minutes after a visit from the new United Nations envoy.

- with agencies.

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