Qatar diplomatic crisis: Ransom money and Russian hackers trigger rift

By @chelean on
  • FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2016.
    FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2016. Reuters/Yuri Kochetkov/Pool/File Photo
  • Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2017.
    Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters
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The Qatar diplomatic crisis was partly triggered by the huge ransom the small nation paid to secure the release of its royal family members and Russian hackers’ planting of fake news report, it has been claimed. According to separate reports, the two incidents explained why eight Middle East and North African (MENA) nations cut their diplomatic ties with Doha.

The countries that have dramatically shunned Qatar have increased from five to eight, with Mauritania being the latest to add to the number. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Maldives and one of Libya’s rival governments have all cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the small nation of harbouring terrorism.

Ransom money

According to Financial Times, Saudi and the others learnt Qatar financed terrorist organisations when its government paid about US$1 billion (AU$1.3 billion) for the release of a Qatari hunting party, which included 11 members of the country’s royal al-Thani ruling family. The 26 falcon hunters were reportedly kidnapped in December 2015 in southern Iraq by Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi paramilitary group with links to Lebanese Hezbollah, a militant group.

The alleged ransom payment benefitted a number of blacklisted groups, including an al-Qaeda affiliate and Iranian security officials. A regional Arab official told the publication that extremist groups received about US$300 million (AU$398 million), while two Iraqi Shia militia commanders claimed that Iran received around US$400 million (AU$531 million).

Although Qatar was believed to be a neutral party, the ransom payment was seen as the gas-rich country allegedly funding terrorists in Syria. The Gulf nations also took offence to Qatar’s reported payment to Iran.

Russian hackers and fake news

CNN reports that Russian hackers were partly responsible for the Qatar diplomatic crisis. US investigators apparently believe that the hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted fake news report. Qatari and US officials said Federal Bureau of Investigation has recently sent a team to Doha to help the government investigate the suspected hacking incident.

The hackers’ goal is believed to be to cause the divide among US and its allies. Last month, the Qatari government said that its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks from Emir Sheikh Tamim Al-Hamad Al-Thani, who allegedly hailed Iran as an “Islamic power.” The country said the website was hacked, and this has been backed up by US investigators.

“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told CNN, adding the FBI has confirmed the hack. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency, which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump appears to have sided with the other nations that cut ties with Qatar. He credited his recent visit to the region for the development.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” he wrote. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Kuwait mediates

Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz on Tuesday in a bid to defuse the tension between the Arab nations and Qatar. No other information was made available.

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