“This article has been edited to add more accurate information.”
A controversial charity that has been investigated by several countries for its links to extremism appears to be bankrolled by the State of Qatar. Muslim Aid, a London-based charity with thirteen offices around the world, has received at least a million euros since 2011 from the Qatari government or one of its state-supported charities. In the past, the organisation has been investigated by the governments of England, Wales, Spain and Bangladesh over its alleged funding of terrorist movements. Muslim Aid was also banned in Israel in 2008 for supporting Hamas’ fundraising network, designated a terrorist group in the West. According to information provided by Muslim Aid’s legal representatives, the UK government did not find “any evidence that it had illegally funded any proscribed or designated entities”.
In the UK, Muslim Aid was cleared by the first investigation into the charity, finding that there was no link to Syria or terrorism-related activity. Michelle Russell, Head of Investigations and Enforcement at the Charity Commission said at the time of the announcement, “It is important for the public to understand that opening an inquiry is not in itself a finding of wrong doing”.
But as a result of that investigation, the Commission appointed an Interim Manager in order to assist Muslim Aid in improving its governance and financial management.
And even though the Spanish government has not, to New Europe’s knowledge, found links of Muslim Aid to terrorist activities, the history of allegations and ban in Israel may be particularly distressing for Spain, which has allowed Qatar to build up to 150 mosques in the country until 2020. In 2002, a Spanish police report found that Muslim Aid sent funds to Mujahideen fighters in Bosnia, which Spanish troops had fought to pacify in the decade preceding. Spain has recently had to deal with its own radicalization issues, and its leaders may be disconcerted that so many new mosques are under construction with oversight from Muslim Aid.
The State of Qatar gave almost 150,000 euros to Muslim Aid in 2011, at exactly the moment that Doha became emboldened by an Arab Spring it thought would help it overthrow rival regimes in the region. When protests erupted on Middle Eastern streets, the then Qatari emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is seen as having found an opportunity to establish a new regional order, with himself at its apex. Qatar is accused of seeking to generate and benefit from pockets of unrest in the region. In 2012, the emir pledged $400 million to Hamas and became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took full control of it in 2007. Sources say the former fuelled local militias with guns and money, no matter how radical, to support this enterprise.
By 2013, it was clear the strategy had failed. But Qatar continued to channel money to Muslim Aid via a charity called Al Asmakh, which is based out of Doha and has strong ties to the government. Al Asmakh gave almost a million euros over the next two years. In the UK Muslim Aid formed the basis of a second inquiry. The results of the statutory inquiry were never published
Qatar is currently the subject of a three-and-a-half month boycott by its former Gulf allies. They accuse it of supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and the Nusra Front, and fomenting extremism through a national broadcaster (Al Jazeera Arabic) that cynically incites sectarian tensions for political purposes. Qatar denies these charges. However, this week Hamas announced a rapprochement with its bitter Palestinian rival, Fatah. Many commentators view this as a direct result of the pressure placed on Qatar to end its support for Hamas, which has no option but to return to the negotiating table now that it has lost its principal backer.