US, Qatar sign deal on combating terror financing

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Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani (R) and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exchange a memorandum of understanding in Doha, Qatar, July 11, 2017. (Reuters)
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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting with Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2017
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US, Qatar sign deal on combating terror financing

JEDDAH: The US and Qatar on Tuesday signed an agreement aimed at combating the financing of terrorism.
The signing of the pact, during a visit to Doha by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, comes after the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt — last month imposed sanctions on Qatar for financing extremist groups.
Tillerson said the agreement signed with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani followed intensive discussions.
“The agreement which we both have signed on behalf of our governments represents weeks of intensive discussions between experts and reinvigorates the spirit of the Riyadh summit,” Tillerson said at a joint news conference with Sheikh Mohammed.
“The memorandum lays out a series of steps that each country will take in coming months and years to interrupt and disable terror financing flows and intensify counterterrorism activities globally,” said Tillerson.
Tillerson said the agreement includes milestones to ensure both countries are accountable through their commitments.
“Together the United States and Qatar will do more to track down funding sources, will do more to collaborate and share information and will do more to keep the region ... safe,” Tillerson said.
Fahad Nazer, a political analyst based in Washington, wondered why it took so long for Qatar to agree to stop financing terror.
He told Arab News: “The memorandum of understanding between the US and Qatar could potentially be a positive development, but it really begs a legitimate question: What took Qatar so long? Saudi Arabia and most other (Gulf Cooperation Council) states have long resolved to take similar measures, and have indeed taken concrete steps to cut off financing of extremist groups and organizations. Some of these measures were implemented 10 years ago and even earlier. In some ways, the agreement raises more questions than it answers.”
Perry Cammack, fellow, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the symbolism of the US-Qatar memorandum of understanding on terrorist financing is more important than the content.
"By sidestepping direct reference to the list of Saudi and Emirati demands, the agreement allows Qatar to implicitly acknowledge its willingness to increase its efforts against terrorist financing, while establishing the United States as a mediator in the conflict," said Cammack.

"It remains to be seen, though, whether this agreement can be a bridge to a broader GCC political settlement, since both sides are deeply entrenched in their positions," he added.
Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics, told Arab News: “The agreement helps tone down the acrimony between the two sides and gives Tillerson’s shuttle diplomacy a chance. This is a possible first step, but the bigger picture remains the same for Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain — Qatar must change.”
For its part, the ATQ issued a joint-statement saying the four countries value US efforts. However, the quartet made it clear that this step is not enough and that Qatari “seriousness in combating all forms of financing, supporting and harboring terror” will be closely monitored.
Tillerson is expected in Jeddah on Wednesday for talks with the foreign ministers of the Anti-Terror Quartet.
          


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.