Anti-Qatar banners in protests outside the UN HQ in NY on Sept. 19, 2017 - Egypt Today
CAIRO – 18 July 2018: Original texts and voice mails, obtained by the BBC, revealed that Qatar might have sent more than $1 billion to “terrorists” as ransom to free members of its royal family kidnapped in Iraq in late 2015.
The texts and voice mails, which Qatar confesses are genuine yet misleadingly edited, were between the Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Rahman Al-Thani and Qatar's Ambassador to Iraq, Zayed al-Khayareen.
“The Syrian, Hezbollah Lebanon, and Kataeb Hezbollah Iraq, all want money and this is their chance,” Khayareen told Sheikh Mohamed, referring to the militias kidnapping the royal members for ransom.
The “28” members were kidnapped while travelling for hunting falcons in Iraq, despite being warned.
According to the material obtained, parties involved in the issue also include General Qasem Soleimani, leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force; and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, (formerly known as al-Nusra Front). All of these parties are designated by the U.S. as terrorist groups.
"Soleimani met with the kidnappers yesterday and pressured them to take the $1billion," the ambassador texted Sheikh Mohamed.
The BBC said it obtained the material from a government that is considered an opponent to Qatar. On June 5, 2017, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain decided to cut diplomatic ties with the peninsula, after years of unstable relations, over accusations of Qatar’s support to terrorism.
“I told him you will get your money after we take our people,” Khayareen told Sheikh Mohamed, referring to the negotiations taking place at the time between the ambassador and Abu Mohammed, a Kataib Hezbollah negotiator, to free Qatar’s men.
The opponent that leaked the material claims that Qatar has paid more than $1 billion to “terrorists” in addition to $150 million as side payments or kickbacks.
Qatar denies sending money to terrorists. However, it confesses that large sums of money were already sent in April, 2017, two months before the Arab boycott, but to the Iraqi government for the “economic development” and “the security cooperation,” as Qatar wanted the Iraqi government to feel fully responsible for the safety of the hostages.
In 2016, Soleimani called on Qatar to help implement the four towns' agreement in Syria. The agreement allowed the evacuation of two Sunni rebel-held towns besieged by the government and two Shia government-held towns besieged by the rebels.
In late March, 2017, the agreement was reached. Few days after the evacuation process started, Sheikh Mohamed sent a message to Khayareen, saying: "3,000 [Shia] are being held in exchange location... when we see our people, I will let the buses move." On April, 21, all the Qatari hostages were released.
In a press conference in April, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, said that the Iraqi authorities were shocked by a big number of large bags travelling to Iraq, adding that the bags were seized after the Qatari side rejected to hand the bags over for inspection.
Abadi said that he later knew the bags contained “hundreds of millions of dollars,” and that the money is seized “until now”. He condemned the way the money entered the country, saying: “Imagine that hundreds of millions are given to armed groups ... Is it acceptable?”
The texts and voicemails showed other demands issued to Qatar, including releasing Iranian soldiers imprisoned in Syria by rebels and leaving the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia battling Shia Houthis in Yemen. Following the boycott, Qatar was suspended from the coalition.
Qatar is now facing its worst crisis with its neighbors. The peninsula is accused of funding terrorism, and intervening in the Arab countries’ domestic affairs. Qatar denied paying the biggest ransom in history to “terrorists,” to free its people and denied the quartet’s accusations.