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Lawsuit in London: Qatar spies in Britain

Syrian refugees claim that a campaign of intimidation and threats is being waged against them in order to continue the prosecution against Doha for funding the terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra, which operated in Syria.

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Suspicion: The Qatari intelligence service is conducting a harassment campaign on European soil, in an attempt to sabotage a trial underway in London which could reveal the involvement of the Qatari royal house in financing terrorism.

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The UK Police Special Anti-Terrorism Unit has recently received a request to investigate a series of alleged attempts by the Qatari intelligence service and its envoys to harass witnesses and intimidate a group of Syrian refugees who have filed a UK lawsuit against Doha Bank and two Qatari businessmen. This emerges from a British Supreme Court hearing ten days ago in London.

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The plaintiffs are eight Syrian citizens who fled their country and came to the Netherlands after their lives and homes were destroyed by Jabhat al-Nusra, a jihadist organization that operated in northern Syria during the civil war. Attorney Ben Emerson, a former UN envoy for human rights and the war on terror, told the court that “in an attempt to intimidate them, prosecutors, whose identities are supposed to be confidential, were exposed to telephone threats by people identified as Qatari government envoys. The threats included visits in the dead of night by masked gunmen near their homes, and bribes in an attempt to get them to withdraw from their lawsuit. ”

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As a result, four members of the group decided to retire, fearing their identities would be exposed and swallowed up for them and their families. The remaining four continue to sue the Qatari Doha Bank in London, as it is a UK-registered organization, as well as two Qatari businessmen, Mu’taz and Ramez al-Hayat. According to the plaintiffs, the Qatari bank transferred money to al-Nusra that financed its terrorist activities, through the bank accounts of the al-Hayat brothers. The funds, according to the lawsuit, were transferred directly from the private office of Amir Qatar, through the Doha Bank, to companies owned by the brothers. From there the money was passed on, through other banks in Turkey, to al-Nusra. The plaintiffs, who were tortured by the jihadist organization and lost their homes and property because of it, are now demanding compensation from the bank.

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Israel has a special interest in this exceptional lawsuit, as it may affect the attitude to other additional claims by victims of terrorism, Israelis and in general. It is not inconceivable that the law will cause Israel to reconsider its policy, which allows Qatar to bring millions of dollars into Gaza every month. In addition, the international community may examine its attitude towards Turkey, Qatar’s ultimate ally, and its involvement in terrorist financing.

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The bank, for its part, denies the allegations against it, and claims that the proper place to clarify the allegations against them is not London but Doha. In three months, the court will convene to discuss the issue, which will raise the question of principle whether the Qatari judicial system is at all capable of acting independently before the monarchy.

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An important part of the trial is expected to deal with evidence of money transfers from the Diwan, the office of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim al-Thani, and this is also expected to have diplomatic implications. The Diwan is headed by a senior Qatari intelligence official, Hamed bin Khalifa al-Atiya. The investigation is being conducted by the British government’s Special Anti-Terrorism Unit to find out, among other things, whether during the intimidation of the prosecutors, Qatari intelligence conducted espionage operations on British soil.

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A few months ago, the German newspaper Die Zeit published a series of articles on Qatar’s activities in Europe, raising the suspicion that the Qatari conduct is not an isolated case but part of a broad system. At the center of the series starred a mysterious figure nicknamed Jason G, apparently a former agent in a Western intelligence body, who decided to open an arms trading company in Qatar. While working in Doha, Jason G compiled a fiery portfolio proving that Qatar not only supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni terrorist organizations, but now also funds the Shiite Hezbollah organization through Lebanese charities affiliated with the organization.

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The connecting figure between the Jason G case and the ongoing lawsuit in Britain is Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium Abdul Rahman Ben-Muhammad Suleiman al-Khalafi The ambassador offered to pay Jason G a monthly salary of ten thousand dollars, ostensibly in exchange for advice on how to get rid of Hezbollah’s financiers in Doha. The attempt to silence was unsuccessful, and Jason revealed the affair.

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But now it turns out that this was not the only failed adventure of the Qatari ambassador in Brussels. Among the witnesses in the lawsuit filed by the Syrian refugees in London against the Doha Bank is one key figure, M. If the lawsuit in London has any scope, M. is probably the man.

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M. was born in 1970 to a family from the Syrian elite. The family lived in a beautiful villa on the banks of the Euphrates, in Deir a-Zor in the northeast of the country. His father had a successful political career as a member of the Syrian parliament. His closest friend was the legendary head of Syrian military intelligence, General Razi Canaan.

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M. enlisted in the Syrian army and was stationed in Lebanon, as the head of General Lebanon’s office in Lebanon. The death of Canaan, later the Minister of the Interior, under mysterious circumstances during the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, was probably the stage in which M. seeds of doubt sprouted in M.’s heart regarding the Syrian regime, but these seeds remained dormant. He climbed the ranks of the Syrian political security service, and in 2011 reached the rank of colonel. It was also the year the war broke out in Syria.

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In 2013, M. decided to defect and join the Free Syrian Army. Despite his past in Mukhabrat, M. was received with open arms and placed in one of the most sensitive positions: overseeing the border crossings between Syria and Turkey. As part of his role, he established close ties with his Turkish counterparts. It was also the stage where M. met for the first time with senior representatives of the Qatari army, including Brigadier General Khaled al-Kaabi, the Qatari intelligence officer in charge of the Turkish-Qatari liaison office in the border town of Gaziantep. Above General Ka’abi another senior Qatari official was present, who served as the personal representative of Amir Qatar at the scene.

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could have continued to serve in the Free Syrian Army, get rich to the brim and advance by leaps and bounds thanks to his ties with Qatari officials. But he sought security and stability for himself and his family, and made his way to Europe. In 2014 he landed in the Netherlands and applied for political asylum. His request was granted. M. began to establish himself in his new environment, but then his Qatari friends began to disturb his peace.

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One day, M. received a message from the emir’s representative at the border crossings in Turkey. He had a strange question: Did M. hear about a lawsuit filed by Syrian refugees in the Netherlands against the Doha Bank? Does he know who they are? M. had no idea. That day he received another phone call from the Qatari foreign minister’s office in advance, with the exact same question. Then also a greeting from General Janem Khalifa al-Kubaisi, head of the Qatari Internal Security Service.

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As the days passed, the telephones, demands and demands of the Qataris increased. They tried to coax him with money, pleas and threats. M. began to receive personal greetings from the emir himself and was pressured to attend meetings. M. explained that by law he would have to report on these meetings or lose his citizenship. In Doha, it turns out, they feared that if the story of the eight refugees was successful, they would be followed by hundreds and thousands more in compensation claims. And M., they thought in Qatar, could be the man to help them locate the plaintiffs and contain the threat.

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But M. sought to leave behind him the bloody Middle East, and in the eyes of the Qataris he turned from an asset to a burden. Just before, he was summoned to a meeting at the Qatar Embassy in Cologne. From there he was driven to a resort outside the city and was asked to change into a bathing suit. To his amazement, he found himself in a pool with the emir’s older brother, Sheikh Jassim, and his two friends, General al-Kaabi and the emir’s representative at the Turkish border crossings. Sheikh Jassem sent a message to M. from the Emir, in which he requested that the deal with the Syrian refugees be completed as soon as possible and not interfere with the preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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M., who found himself in an impossible situation, promised to help. Shortly afterwards, he was summoned to the Qatari embassy in Brussels, where he met with Ambassador al-Khalifa, the same ambassador who had failed negotiations with Jason G, over the concealment of Hezbollah funding by Qatar. A few days later, M. was summoned to the embassy in Brussels again. He waited there for long hours before being asked to continue to the Belgian city of Ostend. There, in a meeting with Qatari officials, they discussed how to bring the refugee affair to an end.

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Then, while going out to smoke a cigarette, M. waited for General Kaabi and told him that he was expected to receive an invitation from Sheikh Jassem, the emir’s brother, to be hosted on the deck of his yacht moored in Ostend. He warned him not to comply with the request. If you get on board, he told M., you will not return from there; Either you will be abducted to Qatar, or you will be executed. The invitation arrived, and M. refused on the grounds that he was suffering from seasickness.

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If and when M. gets on the witness stand, it will be a huge court drama. The Qataris have no interest in reaching this stage, but as with Jason G, they will have a very hard time preventing it.

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By Pazit Rabina (Hebrew), November 20, 2020, published on Makor Rishon

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