Qatar has acknowledged receiving help from multiple countries in securing the release of 25 of its ruling family’s members, from Iraqi kidnappers last year, but it has consistently denied that it paid terrorist organizations as part of the deal.
Weeks ago, an elaborate investigative piece published by The New York Times has revealed the intriguing tale of how, in late November 2015, a group of Qatari falcon hunters – including members of Qatar’s ruling al-Thani family – defied warning to go on a hunting trip to Iraq’s Muthanna Province.
The investigation, by Robert F. Worth, is centered around a sum of $360 mln, meant to be ransom money, gets caught at the Baghdad airport, and the circumstances that lead to this turn of events.
Their capture – by a group named Kata’ib Hezbollah – triggered panic in Doha. What started was a desperate scramble for clues and connections that transcends borders to reach Qassem Suleimani, Hezbollah factions and senior ministers in the Iraq government, and also many terrorist groups. Click here for the full story.
However, in a letter last month denouncing the published account in the New York Times, Qatar’s ambassador to the United States asserted flatly that “Qatar did not pay a ransom.”
“The idea that Qatar would undertake activities that support terrorism is false,” the ambassador, Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani, wrote. According to Washington Post, the letter does not deny that Qatar paid money to end the crisis, but suggests that the recipients were government officials, citing vaguely a Qatari initiative with Iraq to “strengthen bilateral relations and ensure the safe release of the abductees.”
But the conversations and text messages obtained by The Post paint a more complex portrait.
According to the detailed The Post’s report, they show senior Qatari diplomats appearing to sign off on a series of side payments ranging from $5 mln to $50 mln to Iranian and Iraqi officials and paramilitary leaders, with $25 mln earmarked for a Kata’ib Hezbollah boss and $50 mln set aside for “Qassem,” an apparent reference to Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a key participant in the hostage deal.
The outlet said it obtained hacked messages that reveal for the first time that the payment plan allocated an additional $150 mln in cash for individuals and groups acting as intermediaries, although they have long been regarded by U.S. officials as sponsors of international terrorism.
These include, in addition to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi paramilitary group linked to numerous lethal attacks on American troops during the Iraq War, as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and at least two Syrian opposition groups, including al-Nusra Front, the notorious Sunni rebel faction linked to al-Qaeda.
The newspaper says that the total sum demanded for the return of the hostages at times climbed as high as $1 billion.
“The Syrians, Hezbollah-Lebanon, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Iraq — all want money, and this is their chance,” Zayed bin Saeed al-Khayareen, Qatar’s ambassador to Iraq and chief negotiator in the hostage affair, wrote in the message. “All of them are thieves.”
Also “You will get your money after we take our people,” Khayareen writes in an April 2017 text message, recounting his conversation with a top official of Kata’ib Hezbollah.
According to Washington post, the text exchanges are part of a trove of private communications about the hostage ordeal that were surreptitiously recorded by a foreign government and provided to it. The intercepted communications also include cellphone conversations and voice-mail messages.SHOW MORE