DUBAI, UAE, Aug 24, (Agencies): The Gulf nation of Qatar is hitting back at suggestions that it supports the Islamic State extremist group, saying that “determined, collective action” is needed to end sectarian violence gripping Iraq and Syria. The energy-rich OPEC member has come under renewed scrutiny over ties to militants, including the Palestinian Hamas and Syrian rebel groups. A German official last week suggested that Qatar may also play a role in funding the Islamic State group, which is fighting in Iraq and Syria and recently beheaded American journalist James Foley.
Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah unequivocally denied funding the Islamic State group. “Qatar does not support extremist groups, including ISIS, in any way,” he said in an emailed statement dated Saturday, using an alternative name for the group. “We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions.
The vision of extremist groups for the region is one that we have not, nor will ever, support in any way.” Qatar was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to condemn Foley’s murder, saying it was “a heinous crime that goes against all Islamic and humanitarian principles, as well as international laws and conventions.” The tiny Gulf emirate has supported Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The Islamic State group is battling Assad’s forces, but it has also clashed with other rebel groups that don’t embrace its extreme interpretation of Islam. Experts say the group generates at least some of its funding from kidnapping, extortion and other criminal business enterprises. Germany’s Development Minister Gerd Mueller suggested Wednesday that Qatar also could be supporting the group.
In a television interview with public broadcaster ZDF, Mueller said it was important to examine who is financing the group, and that “the key word is Qatar.” German officials quickly tried to smooth over that allegation. Mueller spokeswoman Katharina Maenz told reporters Friday that he had merely been referring to media reports about Qatar’s involvement. Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schafer said German diplomats in the Qatari capital Doha had met with Qatari officials to reassure them that Berlin considers the country a partner and that “if there were misunderstandings then we regret this.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to distance herself from the allegation too on Sunday. “The IS militias are very, very well-equipped financially without, as far as I know, being directly supported by any state,” she said in an interview with ARD television. In his statement, al-Attiyah said the killing of civilians and the forced flight of hundreds of thousands of people threatens both Iraq’s existence and “the peace and security of the entire region.” He called for collective action to end the sectarian violence raging in Iraq and Syria. “There is no single answer but it must include cutting off the flow of funds to support extremist groups throughout the region,” he said.
Qatar has also come under fire over its perceived support for Hamas, which Israel and the West consider to be a terrorist organization. The Gulf state is home to exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and is a key financial patron for the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls. Qatar denies financially backing Hamas, however, and has sought to play a role in brokering a truce to end fighting between the group and Israel.
Authority The top Islamic authority in Egypt, revered by many Muslims worldwide, launched an Internet-based campaign Sunday challenging an extremist group in Syria and Iraq by saying it should not be called an “Islamic State.” The campaign by the Dar el-Ifta, the top authority that advises Muslims on spiritual and life issues, adds to the war of words by Muslim leaders across the world targeting the Islamic State group, which controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria. Its violent attacks, including mass shootings, destroying Shiite shrines, targeting minorities and beheadings including American journalist James Foley, have shocked Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, previously said the extremists violate all Islamic principles and laws and described the group as a danger to Islam as a whole. Now, the Dar el-Ifta he oversees will suggest foreign media drop using “Islamic State” in favor of the “al- Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria,” or the acronym “QSIS,” said Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to the mufti. This is part of a campaign that “aims to correct the image of Islam that has been tarnished in the West because of these criminal acts, and to exonerate humanity from such crimes that defy natural instincts and spreads hate between people,” Negm said according to Egypt’s state news agency MENA. “We also want to reaffirm that all Muslims are against these practices which violate the tolerant principles of Islam.” Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also weighed in. On Sunday, speaking to editors of Egyptian newspapers, he said the extremist group is part of a plot aiming to “undermine Islam as a belief.” He said the current religious discourse in the region only feeds “minds that believe that killing and bloodshed is the way to defend Islam,” in comments carried by MENA. El-Sissi has been a champion of advancing moderate Islam, building his power base in the chaotic region and since he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on vows to crush extremist Islam. The mufti’s adviser Negm said the Internet and social media campaign will include opinions by Islamic scholars from around the world about the group and its claims to represent Islam. It also will include a hashtag campaign on Twitter and videos from Muslims denouncing the group and its methods. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik, had also called the group Islam’s No. 1 enemy. The world’s largest bloc of Islamic nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said Saturday that the actions of the group, including Foley’s beheading as well as the targeting of minorities, have nothing to do with the values of Islam. The 57-member state group is based in Saudi Arabia. Muslims around the world have battled against the backlash that followed the rise of al-Qaeda and the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks in the US Scholars and activist groups have sought for years to disassociate themselves from militants touting their own extremist versions of Islam. They say the Islamic State group is another, one that appears more ambitious and aggressive than al-Qaeda. The Islamic State group renamed itself on June 29 when it unilaterally declared the territory it held in Iraq and Syria a caliphate, effectively erasing the two countries’ borders and setting up a protostate governed by its own strict interpretation of Shariah law. It previously referred to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant while fighting in Syria against the rule of President Bashar Assad. Arab foreign ministers held a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss the Syrian conflict and the rise of “extremism” in the region, the official SPA news agency reported. The meeting came as US media reported that Washington, which has launched air raids in northern Iraq against Islamic State, could consider similar action against IS jihadists in Syria. The closed-door talks in the Red Sea city of Jeddah was attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, as well as an advisor to Jordan’s foreign minister, said SPA. They discussed the Syrian conflict and “challenges including the rise of terrorist extremist ideology”. The ministers agreed on “the need to seriously work to deal with these crises and challenges to preserve security and stability in Arab countries,” it said, without giving details.