How much was Qatar willing to pay Qassem Soleimani in terrorist-linked deal?
Audio and text messages obtained by the Washington Post have revealed a multi-million dollar sum allocated to Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as part of a deal to release 25 members from its ruling family from Iraqi kidnappers last year.
Doha has consistently denied that it paid terrorist organizations as part of the deal, but the messages reveal senior Qatari diplomats appearing to sign off on a series of side payments.
They ranged 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 Soleimani, believed to be a key mediator 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 US 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 wrote in an April 2017 text message, recounting his conversation with a top official of Kata’ib Hezbollah.
According to the 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 voicemail messages.