Will Macron’s Paris conference help end Qatar’s terror financing?

French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech as part of an international conference to discuss ways of cutting funding to groups including Islamic State and al-Qaeda, a the OECD headquarters in Paris. (Reuters)

Ministers from more than 70 countries — including bitter rivals — are working on ways to combat financing for the ISIS group and Al-Qaeda at an international conference in Paris, which still bears scars of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years.

Participants scheduled to take part in Thursday's international conference include countries from the Gulf.

It was launched by French President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate efforts to reduce the terror threat in the long term. A string of attacks has killed 245 people in France since January 2015 and dozens of others have been thwarted.

France is pushing for international coordination and more transparency in financial transactions. But it recognizes how sensitive the issue is, and sees the conference as a first step to encourage political mobilization.

The French organizers noted that ISIS military defeats on the ground don't prevent the group from pursuing its terrorist activities, along with al-Qaeda —especially in unstable regions of Afghanistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa.

Terror groups don't only rely on the cash economy — they're using increasingly using hard-to-track tools like prepaid cards, online wallets and crowdfunding operations. A French top official said "we are still facing groups that are financially very strong and that use a lot the most anonymous kind of techniques to transfer money."

The ISIS group also has invested in businesses and real estate to ensure its financing. Islamic State revenues alone were estimated at $2.5 billion between 2014 and 2016, according to the French president's office.

Most of the attacks in Western countries do not cost a lot of money, but terror groups "behave like big organizations ... It costs a lot to recruit, train, equip people and spread propaganda," the official said. He was speaking anonymously under the presidency's customary practice ahead of the meeting.

Funding to extremist groups in the Middle East once freely flowed across the region's informal money-transfer shops and in donations made in mosques when traveling clerics issued special appeals during sermons. While welcomed by the West when such funding went toward those fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, the same system helped fund the rise of al-Qaeda and its brutal offspring, the ISIS.

In recent years, the U.S. and other Western nations have encouraged Middle Eastern nations to close off those sources.

However, allegations over extremist funding in part sparked a nearly yearlong boycott of Qatar by Arab states. Qatar denies funding extremists, though it has faced Western criticism about being lax in enforcing such rules.

However, most recently and just a day had passed following Qatar Emir’s assertion before US President Donald Trump at the White House that Doha does not support terrorism, the next day, Qatar’s Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, along with other government officials, poses with the most prominent name on the Qatari and international terrorist lists - Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi - at the wedding of the latter’s son.

The Qatari government admitted in a statement released on Saturday that their Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani did in fact attend the wedding.

UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has hit out over Qatar’s Prime Minister recent attendance of a terror suspect son’s wedding saying Doha undermined the efforts of dozens of law and PR firms it hired to polish its image.

Also a prominent human rights lawyer demanded Monday that Qatar compensate Dutch-based victims of an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian extremist group, saying the Al Nusra group was financed by Qatar-based funding networks.

In a letter sent to Qatar's ruling emir that was seen by The Associated Press, lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld accused the wealthy Gulf state of failing to take action against the al-Nusra Front and said: "Qatar is therefore liable for the damages suffered by the victims."

In her letter to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Zegveld alleged that one of the victims was taken hostage by members of al-Nusra near Damascus in December 2012.

The man, whose identity was not released out of safety concerns, was repeatedly tortured, forced to watch the executions of two other hostages and subjected to a mock execution. The militants demanded nearly $2 million for his release.

Qatar also has supported the pan-Arab Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, which many countries view as a direct challenge.

"Henry Jackson Society" also said, recently, that Qatar’s ties with terrorism are continuing. The British think tank suggests a four-point plan of action to the British government in order to push to Qatar to change its behavior.

The new report examines the charges made against the Qatari government by other Gulf states and questions whether Doha is engaged in power politics and bolstering groups and individuals, many of whom are dangerous radicals, that undermine its neighbors and regional stability.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel Al Jubeir and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani were among dignitaries scheduled to take part in Thursday's meeting. It includes ministers of justice, finance, foreign affairs and the interior from Western countries, the Arab world and other nations as well as representatives of 18 international organizations.

Participants are expected to issue a final declaration which should encourage countries to improve their domestic practices to "effectively collect, exchange and analyze financial intelligence," the French presidency said. In closing the conference, Macron is expected to call for a multilateral response as the only way to eradicate or at least reduce the global threat.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52
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