By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke so mistrusted the Qataris that he plotted an extraordinary rendition, but the FBI, CIA, and Defense Department said they couldnt pull it off. Then he asked the ambassador to obtain the Emirs approval for a snatch, without the word getting to anyone else. Despite assurances that only a few senior officials knew about our plan, KSM learned of it and fled the country ahead of the FBIs arrest teams arrival, Clarke concluded in his book, Against All Enemies. We were of course outraged at Qatari security and assumed the leak came from within the palace. Clarke noted that one report indicated that KSM had evaporated on a passport supplied by Abdallah al-Thanis Islamic-affairs ministry. When Clarke was told by the Los Angeles Times in 2003 that Abdallah had been elevated to interior minister, he said: Im shocked to hear that. Youre telling me that al-Thani is in charge of security inside Qatar. I hope thats not true. Having just left the Bush administration, Clarke added that Abdallah had great sympathy for bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, [and] was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities. The Los Angeles Times quoted several U.S. officials involved in the hunt for KSM who fingered Abdallah as the one who learned of the imminent FBI dragnet and tipped off Muhammad.
Even earlier than the Los Angeles Times report, ABC News' Brian Ross reported that Abdallah had warned KSM, citing American intelligence officials, and added that KSM had left Qatar "with a passport provided by that country's government." Ross didn't limit his broadside to Abdallah, saying that "there were others in the Qatari royal family who were sympathetic and provided safe havens for Al Qaeda." A New York Times story in 2003 said that Abdallah "harbored as many as 100 Arab extremists on his farm." The story also quoted Freeh as saying that KSM had "over 20 false passports at his disposal" and cited American officials who suspected Abdallah of tipping him off. However, the Times story also quoted a Qatari official who claimed that Abdallah "always provided support for Islamic extremists with the knowledge and acceptance of Qatar's emir."
Indeed, the Times reported in another 2003 story that after 9/11, KSM was said by Saudi intelligence officials to have "spent two weeks hiding in Qatar, with the help of prominent patrons." Abdul Karim al-Thani, a royal family member who did not hold a government post, was also accused in the story of operating a safe house for Abu Massab al-Zarqawi, who later became the face of the early Iraqi insurgency but was depicted then as an Al Qaeda operative moving from Baghdad to Afghanistan. Abdul al-Thani, according to a senior coalition official, provided Qatari passports and a million-dollar bank account to finance the network.
Other connections between Qatar and terrorism have been reported in the press. Newsweek identified an Iraqi living in Doha and working at Abdallah's Islamic-affairs ministry as being detained by Qatar police because of the ties he had to 9/11 hijackersyet he was released even though phone records linked him as well to the 1993 bombers and the so-called "Bojinka" plot hatched in Manila to blow up civilian airlines. A Chechen terrorist financier harbored in Qatar was assassinated there by a Russian hit squad in 2004. Yousef Qardawi, a cleric with a talk show on Al Jazeera and ties to the emir, issued a fatwa against Americans the same year. An engineer at Qatar Petroleum carried out a suicide bomb attack at a theater popular with Westerners in early 2005, killing one and wounding 12.
Finally, the long-smoldering question of whether Osama bin Laden played a role in the 1996 bombing of the American barracks at Khobar Towersfunneling 20 tons of C-4 explosives into Saudi Arabia through Qatarresurfaced in a story based intelligence reports and endorsed by none other than Dick Cheney. In 2003, Steven Hayes of The Weekly Standard wrote a celebrated story based on a 16-page Defense Department intelligence assessment. The thrust of the story was to advance the administration's thesis about Al Qaeda's ties to Iraq, but Hayes also found that in a January 1996 visit to Qatar, Osama bin Laden "discussed the successful movement of explosives into Saudi Arabia, and operations targeted against U.S. interests" in Khobar and two other locations, "using clandestine al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia." The 2007 CRS study says that it is "unclear" if those conversations were "related to the preparations for the June 1996 attack" that killed 19 servicemen, but that the "Qatari individual" who reportedly hosted bin Laden for these discussions was none other than Abdallah al-Thani. Bill Gertz and others have been writing for years that the path to the carnage at Khobar led through Doha.
The Khobar attack closely followed an unsuccessful coup attempt against the emir on February 20, 1996, which Qatar officials, in later criminal prosecutions, formally accused Saudi Arabia of fomenting. Analysts in the region have suggested that any use of Qatar as a launching pad for the Khobar attack so soon after the coup attempt was likely to have been approved at the highest levels of the government. In October 1996, within months of both the KSM escape and the Khobar bombing, Abdallah al-Thani got his first major promotion, elevated by the emir to Minister of State for Interior Affairs, a cabinet position.