The recording lasts thirty-nine minutes. In this audio document published on the Telegram channels of the Islamic State (IS) group, Abu Hamza al-Qourachi, the organization’s spokesperson, is not surprisingly carrying out a formal attack on members of the international anti-jihadist coalition, which ended the self-proclaimed ISIS short-lived “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq last year. Calling the coronavirus pandemic “divine punishment”, Daesh spokesman calls on jihadist fighters to intensify their attacks as the organization takes advantage of the security vacuum to resurface in Iraq and Syria.
However, for the first time, its organization specifically targets the State of Qatar. “Not a day has we forgotten that the Al-Oudeid base, built by the tyrants of Qatar to accommodate the American army, was and always remains the command of the campaign led by the crusaders”, points out Abu Hamza al-Qourachi in reference to the United States’ largest air base in the Middle East, home to 11,000 American, British and Qatari soldiers near Doha, and which greatly contributed to the coalition air bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.
” Unprecedented “
“This record is unprecedented because it is the first time that Qatar has been specifically portrayed as an apostate country, while other Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are spared”, says Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King’s College in London. “Usually, the Gulf region is challenged by IS as a bloc, with particular attention paid to Saudi Arabia. “
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This time, Abu Hamza al-Qurachi directly accuses Doha of having “financed” rebel factions against the jihadists in Iraq, at the end of the 2000s, as well as in Syria, since the start of the civil war in 2011. “ In Iraq, Qatar has indeed supported, like the other Gulf countries, the American efforts aimed at bringing the Sunni tribes to fight Al-Qaeda, “recalls Andreas Krieg. “In Syria, Doha has financed, like Saudi Arabia, a number of rebel groups to fight Bashar al-Assad, who also later fought Daesh,” said independent analyst Sam. Heller, advisor to the International Crisis Group. “The difference is that the support networks were different from country to country and that the rebels helped by Doha were more of an Islamist tendency. “
Funding of Islamist groups
Officially, the two countries have supported moderate rebel groups through an aid program launched by the CIA in 2013 and completed in 2017. However, Qatar has never made a secret of its ties to Syrian Islamist factions. more or less inspired by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it supports. Among them was the Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham, active in Aleppo and Idleb until 2018. “Doha supported those whom ISIS considered its worst enemies among the rebels: doctrinal enough to be credible among the Islamists and flexible enough to be considered traitors by the hard-core, ”explains Thomas Pierret, CNRS-Iremam researcher in Aix-en-Provence.
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If he denies it, Qatar also maintains links with the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, editor’s note) in power in the province of ‘Idleb, who entered open war against ISIS in 2013 after their split from the group. These contacts notably enabled him to obtain the release of hostages at the hands of the jihadists. “Doha has encouraged, probably with funding, the pragmatic shedding of Jabhat al-Nusra and its transformation into Hayat Tahrir al-Sham,” said researcher Thomas Pierret.
Support for the Muslim Brotherhood
As for Saudi Arabia, its activism in Syria focused more on the factions linked to the “Free Syrian Army”, the “moderate” branch of the rebellion, as well as to certain Salafist groups like Jaish al-Islam, long present in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, taken over by the Syrian army in May 2018. “Riyadh had to adjust a little to the realities on the ground, but supported only a small number of Islamist groups among the most pragmatic vis-à-vis the regional political order, which is the main concern of Saudi Arabia, “said Thomas Pierret.
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Riyadh hates the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it considers, like the United Arab Emirates, as “terrorist”, all the more since it represents a model competing with the petro-monarchies of the Gulf, where it has been established for years 1970. On the contrary, Qatar estimates that its 300,000 citizens are safe from the brotherhood, which allows it above all to exercise its political and military influence throughout the region.
Determined to bend Doha, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in 2017 imposed a land, air and sea blockade on the tiny emirate in the hope of seeing it sever its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Under the leadership of the young emir Tamim al-Thani, who came to power in 2013, Qatar has since muted its rowdy regional diplomacy and expelled a number of senior officials from the brotherhood. However, he did not sever his ties with the “Brothers”.
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New fact, Qatari support for the brotherhood is now also denounced by the Islamic State organization. “For Daesh, Qatar is only there to support the Muslim Brotherhood, which it describes in its registration of apostates,” points out Sébastien Boussois *, researcher in political science associated with the Free University of Brussels and the university. from Montreal. “Usually, in this world crusade which the Islamic State is trying to lead, the communicators of the organization also attack Iran or Turkey, but here, in this document, it is hardly any makes mention. “
The sudden interest that Qatar has aroused today in the jihadist organization calls out to many observers. “It is still very interesting that Daesh, which has the habit of threatening Saudi Arabia with each of its audio recordings, chooses only Qatar this time”, wonders an official of the Gulf on condition of anonymity . “It is all the same very strange that the IS discourse uses exactly the same narrative that Saudi Arabia used at the start of the blockade against Qatar,” he continues, without accusing himself.
* Sébastien Boussois is the author of “ Daesh, the sequel ”(editions of Aube).