UAE touts film linking rival Qatar to 9/11 attacks
When they justify their efforts to isolate the tiny, oil-rich kingdom of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates often point toward allegations of Qatari funding for international terrorism.
This week, a new UAE-backed documentary is set to make these arguments even more explicit by pointing to reports of a relationship between Qatar's government and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged architect of perhaps the most notorious terrorist attack in modern history: the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Though few details about the documentary have been released publicly so far, widespread reports of its airing in the Emirati press this week quickly prompted accusations of hypocrisy from some Middle East watchers, many of whom pointed out that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been accused of their own links to the 9/11 attacks.
Notably, of the 19 hijackers who took part in the terrorist attacks, two were from the UAE and 15 were from Saudi Arabia. None were Qatari.
Rami Khouri, a columnist and journalism professor at the American University of Beirut, wrote on Twitter that the situation showed that news outlets in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were losing their credibility. “Sad & totally counterproductive,” Khouri tweeted on Tuesday.
The documentary is titled “Qatar … The Road to Manhattan” and it is due to air on Wednesday evening on Sky News Arabia. Dubai-based Gulf News reports that the show will focus on “the hidden role of Qatar in supporting and financing terrorism, especially the support lent by the former Qatari Minister of Interior and Minister of Endowments, Abdullah Bin Khalid Al Thani, to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.”
The documentary will highlight allegations that al-Thani blocked U.S. attempts to arrest Mohammed, citing “testimonies from several U.S. Central Intelligence Agency agents,” Gulf News reported.
Suspicions about a relationship between al-Thani, a member of Qatar's ruling family, and al-Qaeda are not new. Back in 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that “U.S. counterterrorism authorities have long believed that Qatar's interior minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani, has sheltered terrorists — including [ …]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.” Qatar has also been criticized for turning a blind eye to terrorism funding more recently, though it claims to have tackled this problem.
However, the timing of the documentary's release raised eyebrows among journalists and analysts. So too, did its provenance: Sky News Arabia is an Arabic-language joint venture between the well-known British-based news organization and Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, a private investment firm owned by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan — deputy prime minister of the UAE and a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family.
In response to questions emailed to Sky News Arabia that asked about the timing of the documentary and its intentions, a press representative released a short statement. “When considering the merits of a story, every broadcaster takes into account the following: How engaged the audience is with the subject matter, its timeliness, and the extent to which the story offers new information to its viewers,” the statement read.
Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at the U.S.-based Baker Institute for Public Policy, said he was contacted by Sky News Arabia and Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news channel, with requests to appear in a documentary about Qatar's links to Mohammed. Both requests were made in June after Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced their blockade of Qatar.
Ulrichsen said that he had declined to participate, noting that he wasn't sure if the organizations were working together on the documentary or competing. “I want to be fair and balanced in my analysis of the Qatar standoff and try to avoid being pulled into support of an agenda by any of the parties,” Ulrichsen said in an email, adding that he also refused offers to appear on Al Jazeera, Qatar's influential state-funded news organization.
Others, however, participated. J.D. Gordon, a former national security adviser for the Trump campaign, said that he had talked to the documentary's creators about “my perspective as a former Pentagon spokesman who witnessed [Mohammed] in court several times at Guantanamo a decade ago.” Gordon had recommended a number of other experts to the show's producers, he said in an emai
U.S. intelligence officials believe that the UAE orchestrated a hacking attack on Qatari government news and social media sites in May, The Washington Post reported earlier this month. The alleged hack posted incendiary quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, and helped sparked a diplomatic crisis in which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies broke diplomatic ties with Doha.
Qatari officials have publicly rejected claims that they help fund terrorism; they have launched their own public relations-push to battle these accusations and rapidly increased spending on lobbying in Washington. In June, Qatari Ambassador Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal that argued the campaign against his country was “not about terrorism” and that “the U.S. Treasury Department list 10 times as many suspected terrorists and terrorist financiers from the boycotting countries as from Qatar.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of Qatar's government communications office, said that the new documentary was a "desperate attempt by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to deflect attention from their own failings to counter terrorism and extremism at home."
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