US suggests Russia, Syria may tamper with Douma evidence, Moscow denies

The US says inspectors have been stopped from reaching the attack site. (Reuters)
Updated 16 April 2018
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US suggests Russia, Syria may tamper with Douma evidence, Moscow denies

  • The US accused Russia of blocking to gas attack site in Syria
  • Moscow denied the charge and blamed delays on retaliatory US-led missile strikes on Syria

DAMASCUS/THE HAGUE: The US accused Russia on Monday of blocking international inspectors from reaching the site of a suspected poison gas attack in Syria and said Russians or Syrians may have tampered with evidence on the ground.
Moscow denied the charge and blamed delays on retaliatory US-led missile strikes on Syria at the weekend.
In the fraught aftermath of the suspected attack in Douma and the West’s response, Washington also prepared to increase pressure on Moscow, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main ally, with new economic sanctions. European Union foreign ministers threatened similar measures.
In London and Paris, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron faced criticism from political opponents over their decisions to take part in the air strikes against Syria.
Syria and Russia deny unleashing poison gas on April 7 during their offensive on Douma, which ended with the recapture of the town that had been the last rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.
Relief organizations say dozens of men, women and children were killed. Footage of young victims foaming at the mouth and weeping in agony has thrust Syria’s civil war — in which half a million people have been killed in the past seven years — to the forefront of world concern again.
Inspectors from the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) traveled to Syria last week to inspect the site, but have yet to gain access to Douma, which is now under government control after the rebels withdrew.
“It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site,” US Ambassador Kenneth Ward said at an OPCW meeting in The Hague on Monday.
“It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation,” he said. His comments at the closed-door meeting were obtained by Reuters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Moscow had interfered with any evidence. “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” he told the BBC.

Trump wants us troops home
Two days after the missile strikes which he hailed as a well-executed military operation, President Donald Trump still wants to bring US troops home, the White House said on Monday.
But spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said he had not set a timeline for a pull-out. Trump was also willing to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, she added, while indicating that no such encounter was imminent.
Britain’s delegation to the OPCW accused Russia and the Assad government of stopping inspectors from reaching Douma. “Unfettered access is essential,” it said in a statement. “Russia and Syria must cooperate.”
The team aims to collect samples, interview witnesses and document evidence to determine whether banned toxic munitions were used, although it is not permitted to assign blame for the attack.
British Ambassador Peter Wilson said in The Hague that the United Nations had cleared the inspectors to go but they had been unable to reach Douma because Syria and Russia had been unable to guarantee their safety.
Moscow blamed the delay on the air strikes, in which the United States, France and Britain targeted what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities.
“We called for an objective investigation. This was at the very beginning after this information (of the attack) appeared. Therefore allegations of this toward Russia are groundless,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia’s defense ministry later said the United States and its allies had hit military targets and not just research facilities, Interfax news agency reported.
The Syrian military destroyed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles detected in Syrian airspace, RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying.
The inspectors met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in the presence of Russian officers and a senior Syrian security official in Damascus for about three hours on Sunday.
OPCW inspectors have been attacked on two previous missions to the sites of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Horrible, miserable
Syrian flags flew in Douma on Monday, security forces stood on street corners and Russian military police patrolled the streets. State aid trucks handed out bread, rice and pasta to people who had lived under siege for years.
A government-organized media tour did not include the building where, according to rescue workers and medics who were in town at the time, dozens of people were killed by poison gas.
Doctors at the hospital where suspected victims were treated told reporters on the tour that none of the patients that night had suffered chemical weapons injuries — they were asphyxiated by dust and smoke in a bombardment.
Medical aid groups and the White Helmets rescue organization have said such statements — already aired on state television in recent days — were made under duress.
The US-led strikes did nothing to alter the strategic balance or dent Assad’s supremacy and the Western allies have said the aim was to prevent the further use of chemical weapons, not to intervene in the civil war or topple Assad.
At a meeting in Luxembourg, the 28 EU foreign ministers endorsed the missile strikes and considered steps to deepen Assad’s isolation.
“The European Union will continue to consider further restrictive measures against Syria as long as the repression continues,” they said in a statement after their talks.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on Sunday the United States would announce new economic sanctions aimed at companies dealing with equipment related to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, though the White House said on Monday that no decision had been taken yet.
“We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,” the White House’s Sanders said.

Domestic opposition
The Western leaders faced scrutiny at home over their actions, with Britain’s May facing questions over why she did not seek parliamentary approval for the action.
She told parliament the decision to conduct air strikes against Syria was in the British national interest and not as a result of pressure from Trump.
“We have not done this because President Trump asked us to, we have done it because we believed it was the right thing to do, and we are not alone. There is broad-based international support for the action we have taken,” May said.
May has said she did not seek a green light from parliament for the attacks due to the need to act quickly.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has questioned the legal basis for Britain’s involvement.


Security alert as Qatari ex-minister linked to terror reappears in public

Updated 16 July 2018
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Security alert as Qatari ex-minister linked to terror reappears in public

  • Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Thani was photographed in Doha recently autographing a wall portrait of Qatar ruler
  • The Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – placed Abdullah Al-Thani on a list of 59 terrorists being sheltered by Qatar

JEDDAH: The re-emergence in public of a former Qatari interior minister linked to financing and promoting terrorism has rung alarm bells in the security community.

Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Thani was photographed in Doha recently autographing a wall portrait of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

The Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt  — placed Abdullah Al-Thani on a list of 59 terrorists being sheltered by Qatar. He has been accused of financing several terror operations and of accommodating terrorists, including those involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks, at his farmhouse in Qatar.

Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of those attacks, moved to Qatar “at the suggestion of Abdullah Al-Thani,” according to the US Department of Defense.

In 1995, Abdullah Al-Thani is believed to have provided funding to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to support him in combat in the Bosnian war. While the US pushed for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest, Abdullah Al-Thani told Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about the growing pressure for his detention, leading to him leaving the country with a Qatar-provided passport on a government executive jet. When he returned, Abdullah Al-Thani was briefly confined to house arrest.

“This man is a big supporter of terrorism and of Al-Qaeda and there is no doubt that he enjoys the patronage of the Qatari regime. His re-appearance confirms all our worst fears that Qatar is a hotbed of terrorists and anti-Arab plotters,” said Saudi scholar and international affairs expert Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri.

“We had no problem with the United States. We were great allies. But Qatar wanted to drive a wedge between our good ties and so, in league with Iran, they supported and facilitated Al-Qaeda's 9/11 operation.”

Al-Shehri said it was not a coincidence that 15 Saudis were selected by Al-Qaeda, Iran and Qatar for the 9/11 operation. “Their primary purpose was to finish our relationship with the United States. With time and painstaking work by other countries it soon became obvious who was pulling the strings of those terrorists, and why.”

"I think it's the right time to put all international pressure on the Qatari regime," said Salman Al-Ansari, head of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).

Abdullah Al-Thani was among the key links, Al-Shehri said. “When Doha realized it was being exposed it sent Abdullah Al-Thani out of the public eye. But it now seems emboldened enough to bring him back into the public glare. This proves once again that Qatar is the biggest promoter and supporter of terrorism, and that the Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia, have been absolutely justified in snapping ties with Qatar.”

After Saudi Arabia and three other states severed relations with Qatar in June 2017, Al-Qaeda operatives and ideologues came out instantly in support of Qatar. Egyptian Mohammed Shawqi Islambouli, a US-designated terrorist, described Qatar as “the pride of the Arabs.” Abdalrahman bin Omeir Al-Nuaymi, who the US sanctioned in December 2013 for “providing financial support to Al-Qaeda, Asbat Al-Ansar, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Al-Shabaab,” was also among those who rallied in support of Qatar.

On June 4, Al-Nuaymi posted on Twitter: “The latest developments in our region have proven that a state that sows destruction (Saudi Arabia) is inciting the West to sanction states (Qatar) and individuals.”

Al-Nuaymi is a Qatar University professor and former president of the Qatar Football Association. He was also a founding member of a prominent charity — the Sheikh Eid bin Mohammad Al-Thani Charitable Foundation, named after a member of the country’s ruling family. The Telegraph newspaper described him as “one of the world’s most prolific terrorist financiers.”

Among the list of 59 individuals and 12 organizations that the ATQ blamed for supporting terror are several who are also sanctioned by international organizations, including the UN. 

Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Shariyan Al-Ka’bi, a Qatari national openly living in Qatar, was designated by the UN in 2015 as a known facilitator and fundraiser for the Nusra Front. Al-Ka’bi’s activities in Qatar, including the arranging of funding and transferring funds are well known and documented, yet the Qatari government has done nothing to stop his actions.

Abd Al-Latif bin Abdallah Salih Mohammed Al-Kawari is a known fundraiser for terrorist groups dating back to the early 2000s. At that time Al-Kawari was associated with Ibrahim Isa Haji Mohammed Al-Bakr, himself a designated terrorist by the UN and US. The two were working in Qatar to raise funds for Al-Qaeda organizations based in Pakistan and Al- Kawari was directly connected to the transfer of funds from Qatar to Pakistan. Al-Kawari has also been associated with fundraising and the transfer of funders to the Al-Qaeda offshoot, the Nusra Front.

One of the major demands made of Qatar by the Anti-Terror Quartet was: “Full withdrawal of all support, shelter and funding for terror and extremist organizations of all kinds.”