Qatar says terrorism blacklist issued by 4 Arab states is "baseless"

Striking a defiant tone, Qatar's foreign minister says no one gave Arab nations the right to "blockade" his energy-rich country, and that the campaign by Saudi Arabia and its allies to isolate Qatar is based on "false and fabricated news."

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

A traditional fishing Dhow contrasts with modern glass and steel buildings in Doha, Qatar. (February 9, 2010)

Doha on Friday dismissed allegations of support for terrorism after four Arab states, which cut ties with Qatar this week, blacklisted as terrorists dozens of people with alleged links to the Gulf state.

The announcement by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain increases pressure on Qatar over allegations that it interferes in the affairs of its neighbours by supporting and financing what its critics allege are terrorist groups.

"The recent joint statement issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE regarding a 'terror finance watch list' once again reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact," the Qatari government said in a statement.

"Our position on countering terrorism is stronger than many of the signatories of the joint statement – a fact that has been conveniently ignored by the authors."

Qatar said it led the region in attacking what it called the roots of terrorism, giving young people hope through jobs, educating hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and funding community programmes to challenge extremist agendas.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani pose for a photo during the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017. (Reuters)

The four Arab countries named in a statement 59 people, including Muslim Brotherhood-linked cleric Yousef al Qaradawi, and 12 entities, among them Qatari-funded charities Qatar Charity and Eid Charity. 

Bahrain on Thursday followed the UAE in announcing that expressing sympathy for Qatar over the sanctions was an offence punishable by jail.

Earlier this week, the Arab countries closed air, sea and land links with Qatar, barred the emirate's planes from their airspace and ordered Qatari citizens out within 14 days.

The small Gulf Arab state is a critical global supplier of gas. It also hosts the Al Udeid military base, the largest US air base in the Middle East. Home to some 10,000 troops, it is central to the US-led fight against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

US President Donald Trump initially backed the measures against Qatar. But on Wednesday, he called Qatar's Sheik Tamim with an offer "to help the parties resolve their differences."

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani said Qatar's ruling emir will not leave the country while it is "in blockade," effectively meaning he cannot take up Trump's offer of mediation, following the president's change of mind.

Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani gestures as he speaks to reporters in Doha, Qatar, June 8, 2017. (Reuters)

Kuwait – which unlike most of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members has not cut off ties with Qatar – has been leading efforts to address the crisis.

Its emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah held talks on Wednesday with Qatari counterpart Sheikh Tamim, following talks with senior UAE officials and Saudi King Salman.

Qatar defiant

The Qatari foreign minister said Doha had not yet been presented with a list of demands by countries that cut off diplomatic and transport ties, but insisted the matter be solved peacefully.

"We have been isolated because we are successful and progressive. We are a platform for peace," he told reporters in Doha.

"We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy," he said, warning that the dispute threatened the stability of the region.

"We're not worried about a food shortage, we're fine. We can live forever like this, we are well prepared," Sheikh Mohammed said.

He said Iran was ready to help with securing food supplies in the emirate, an investment powerhouse and supplier of natural gas to world markets but tiny and reliant on imports.

Turkey has also pledged to provide food and water supplies to its Arab ally, which hosts a Turkish military base.

People shout slogans as they hold Turkish and Qatari flags during a demonstration in favour of Qatar in central Istanbul, Turkey, June 7, 2017. (Reuters)

Late on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved legislation to deploy Turkish troops in Qatar, signalling support for the Gulf state.

A senior UAE official accused Qatar of escalating the row by seeking help from Turkey and Iran.

"The request for political protection from two non-Arab countries and military protection from one of them could be a new tragic and comic chapter," UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash attends an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 7, 2017. (Reuters)

Gargash said this week's decision was not aimed at a change of regime in Qatar but to pressure the country to reshape its policy.

Analysts say the current crisis is in part an extension of a 2014 dispute, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Doha over Qatari support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

A top Gulf official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP a major concern was the influence of Sheikh Tamim's father, Sheikh Hamad, who had allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha and helped arm Syrian rebels before abdicating in 2013.

"This is a foreign policy that has gone wild," UAE state minister for foreign affairs said. "We need to put everything in check."

Gargash said the four Arab states seek a "political commitment to change course" by Qatar, including ending its support for the Brotherhood and Hamas.

Al Jazeera in the crosshairs

The gas-rich emirate's satellite news giant Al Jazeera has also emerged as a point of contention, and at the centre of the gulf dispute. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have banned Al Jazeera from the airwaves and closed the channel's offices.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera tweeted that it was "under cyber attack on all systems, websites & social media platforms," and a source said it was trying to repel the hack.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed said Doha would not shut down its Al Jazeera news network, adding: "If anyone thinks they are going to impose anything on my internal affairs or my internal issues, this is not going to happen."

The acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, Mostefa Souag, attends an interview with Reuters in Doha, Qatar, June 8, 2017. (Reuters)

Acting director-general of Al Jazeera Mostefa Souag dismissed accusations by some Arab powers that Al Jazeera is interfering in their affairs through its reports and defended the network's professionalism.

"All this talk about Jazeera interfering in other countries' affairs is nonsense. We don't interfere in anybody's business, we just report," he told Reuters in his office at the network's headquarters in Qatar's capital.

"If we bring [in] guests who are opposing certain governments, does that mean we are interfering in the countries' business? No. Al Jazeera's editorial policy is going to continue the same regardless of what happens with this event."

Founded in 1996 as part of Qatar's efforts to turn its economic power into political influence, Al Jazeera won millions of viewers across the Arab world by offering uncensored debate rarely seen on other local broadcasters in the region.

Its talk shows hosted guests who challenged the wisdom of Arab rulers and adopted the role of supporter of the dispossessed. Reporters broke with a widespread taboo of the Arab news media by interviewing Israeli officials.

TRTWorld and agencies