A lawsuit filed in Florida by Matthew Schrier, an American photojournalist held hostage in Syria by jihadist groups for 211 days, against two Qatari entities reveals the links of Turkey’s controversial charity group IHH, the “Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation,” to terrorist groups in Syria.
Schrier filed a lawsuit under the Anti-Terrorism Act against Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) in January alleging that Syrian al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups Jabhat al-Nusrah (al-Nusrah Front) and Ahrar al-Sham “used an international network of donors and charities to fund” their terrorist activities, and that the QIB provided “financial services to those donors and financial support to the charities.” His complaint also claimed that the QIB “donated a substantial sum to Qatar Charity.”
The lawsuit also alleged that IHH and Qatar Charity created a partnership to “support the Syrian Islamic Front and Ahrar al-Sham, for example by supporting field hospitals to treat and provide non-medical services to wounded Ahrar al-Sham, Nusra Front and Syrian Islamic Front fighters.”
The complaint referred to international reports blacklisting both the charity and IHH “as entities contaminated with funds related to terrorism.”
Eighteen days after his arrival in Syria to report on the Syrian civil war, Schrier was kidnapped by al-Nusrah in an area between Aleppo and the Turkish border, in late December 2012. The terrorist group held him hostage and beat and tortured Schrier at least 10 times during that time, forced him to see and hear the torture of other prisoners and periodically withheld water and food. Al-Nusrah handed him over to the allied Ahrar al-Sham for 46 of the 211 days of his imprisonment, which also mistreated him.
IHH is a front charity that is known as a tool of Turkish intelligence agency MİT and has been under investigation by the Turkish police. It was accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria. IHH was also utilized in the transport of wounded Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda fighters by ambulance from Syria to Turkey.
Nordic Monitor previously released a Turkish police intelligence report positing how the jihadist Libyan Ben Ali group was conducting its illegal activities with help of IHH Acting President Hüseyin Oruç and its then-South and East Anatolian Coordinator Selahattin Ozer. According to the report, the Ben Ali group moved between Turkey and Syria to provide logistical support, purchase arms and transport wounded fighters for al‐Qaeda‐affiliated terrorist organizations in Syria.
The Turkish police also investigated IHH’s links to Qatar Charity, but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan halted the case in 2014. According to the investigation into al-Qaeda cells in Turkey, İbrahim Şen (37), a convicted al-Qaeda terrorist who was detained in Pakistan on alleged al-Qaeda links and transferred to Guantanamo, where he was kept until 2005, was running a recruitment and trafficking drive between Turkey and Syria and using the IHH to cover the terror network. The investigation had exposed Qatar Charity’s links to the IHH offices in Turkish provinces bordering Syria and Iran, which were used by Şen’s network at the time.
Due to his political cover from the government, Şen was saved from legal troubles. He was arrested in January 2014 and indicted in October 2014 but let go at the first hearing of the trial in October 2014. Turkish police officers were then dismissed and the investigation was hushed up.
Looking at the track record of both Qatar Charity and IHH, there seems to be a perfect match as they both fund militant groups. The two signed a strategic memorandum of understanding (MoU) in August 2014 in Doha with the attendance of IHH head Bülent Yıldırım and Qatar Charity CEO Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Kuwari. The agreement was renewed in December 2016 in Istanbul when IHH and Qatar Charity signed a five-year joint cooperation agreement.
Prior to the investigation in Turkey, Qatar Charity had already been accused by US prosecutors of serving as a major financial conduit for funding the al-Qaeda attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and it was noted that Osama bin Laden allegedly used Qatar Charity to fund al-Qaeda’s activities in the 1990s. Moreover, French intelligence stated in 2013 that Qatar Charity was involved in funding a group in Mali connected to al-Qaeda.
The first two pages of the lawsuit filed by Schrier:
According to the lawsuit Schrier seeks “to recover compensatory and punitive damages, statutory treble damages, and attorneys’ fees and expenses of litigation for the injuries he suffered at the hands of the Nusra Front and Ahrar Al-Sham, the terrorist groups QIB enabled.”
The lawsuit implicates Qatari national Saad al-Kabi as one funder of al-Nusrah. Al-Kabi was sanctioned by the United States in 2015 for supporting the terrorist group. “QIB played two substantial roles in supporting the groups that held Mr. Schrier captive. First, it allowed Qatari national Saad bin Saad al-Kabi to open an account in the name of his minor son (the “al-Kabi QIB account”) and to use that account to funnel money from donors in Qatar and elsewhere to the Nusra Front. Second, it donated a substantial sum to Qatar Charity, a known Al-Qaeda funder and well-publicized supporter of Ahrar al-Sham,” it said.
According to the complaint, QIB donated to Qatar Charity in 2012 and 2013, and allowed Qatar Charity to operate eight accounts at the bank “further facilitating Qatar Charity’s support of terrorism in Syria.”
40th page of the lawsuit revealed links of IHH to jihadist groups in Syria:
Al-Nusrah is an internationally sanctioned terrorist group and has been operating as a part of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) coalition since January 2017. A US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report concluded that al-Nusrah “probably received logistical, financial and material assistance from the elements of the Turkish and Qatari governments.”
Ahrar al-Sham’s top commander, Abu Khaled al-Soury, co-founder of the group, fought for al-Qaeda and was close to al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was killed in 2014. Yet the group survived and even gained more influence after his assassination. In February 2018 the group merged with the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement to form the Syrian Liberation Front.
Although German and Dutch courts designated the group as a terrorist entity, al-Sham is not officially designated as a terrorist group by the European Union, the US or the UN. A discussion has been ongoing at the UN as to whether to classify the group as a terrorist entity. In April 2019 Turkey’s 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals found that there had been no court decision in Turkey that classified al-Sham as a terrorist entity.