Ministers have been accused of becoming too close to a Gulf state that is blamed for funding terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
Qatar, which has multi-billion-pound business interests in the UK, is now the focus of growing disquiet over its links to the financing of jihadists fighting for both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
A US Treasury blacklist of designated terrorists identifies at least seven extremists with connections to Qatar, but the UK Treasury’s list contains just one.
Qatar has enjoyed close ties with Britain in recent years and invested – through its sovereign wealth fund – billions of pounds during the recession, buying up landmark businesses and stakes in major companies. MPs are now demanding Britain gets tough with Qatar and other Gulf states, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and questioning why the British terrorist list has identified fewer fund-raisers.
Mike Freer, the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said: “The glaring difference between the numbers of people on the list in the UK compared to the US does raise questions as to whether we are not as rigorous as the Americans – or else are we being blinded by commercial interests?”
Stephen Barclay, the Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire, said: “If there is sufficient evidence to warrant inclusion on the US sanctions list, it begs the question of why the UK authorities are setting a higher threshold and deem business with such individuals acceptable.”
Mr Barclay, who will raise his concerns with ministers, added: “There is growing concern across parties in Parliament as to why there appears to be so little evidence of action by Qatar and other Sunni Gulf allies against their own nationals who have directly funded – or facilitated the funding of – terrorist groups, including Isil.”
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, called for a rethink of Britain’s relationship with Qatar.
He said: “Here in the UK, we do big business with our ally Qatar, including in arms, and yet there are countless reports, until recently at least, of that country’s government actively courting key bankrollers of al-Qaeda and Isil.
“Its record of cooperating in counter-terrorism has, according to Hillary Clinton, been among the worst of any country.”
He added: “If we are serious about countering groups like Isil, we need to fundamentally rethink the nature of our relationship with the countries that fuel them.”
Qatar, the world’s wealthiest nation per head of population, flatly denies it finances terrorists.
However, critics argue thatat the very least it is accused of turning a blind eye to the
terror fund-raisers operating within its borders.
The latest investigation into terrorist financing discloses how a Qatari civil servant in its Ministry of Interior was at the centre of a “core pipeline” funding al-Qaeda.
In recent weeks, a number of senior politicians and military figures have called for a review of Britain’s trading rules with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, including possible sanctions if fundraising is allowed to continue in those states.
The Treasury insisted last night that its own terrorist list was based on intelligence gathered by the security services.
The minister in charge, currently Lord Deighton, the commercial secretary to the Treasury, has the final say on whether a name is added to the list.
A Treasury spokesman suggested that the burden of proof required for a suspect to be designated a terrorist – and face sanctions and asset freezes as a result – was probably higher in the UK than in the US.
The spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases. “It is for the Treasury minister to make designations, and that is based on information from operational agencies such as MI5 and MI6.
“I would conclude that we have looked at these Qataris and decided not to designate them as terrorists or terrorist financiers.
“It is a very big decision to choose to sanction these people.”
Only one Qatari citizen is on the UK list: Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy.
Al-Subaiy, 49, a Qatari Central Bank employee, was jailed in Qatar for six months in 2008 for his role in financing the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But, according to US Treasury allegations, he continues to be at the centre of a network raising funds for al-Qaeda in both Syria and Iraq.
Terrorism financiers on the US list but not on the UK one include Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaymi, who was designated as a terrorist in December last year by the US government.
Al-Nuaymi is accused by the US of transferring £1.25 million a month to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Nuaymi is also on a United Nations sanctions list.
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