RAF Foundation shows how nations fund Syrian extremists – sources

The RAF Foundation, operating as a Qatari aid and development NGO, is using the cover of its humanitarian work to sponsor extremist groups in Syria, according to Gulf-based intelligence sources.

The foundation, chaired by Sheikh Thani bin Abdulla Al-Thani, the brother of the Emir of Qatar, has funded the now re-labelled Nusra Front in Syria with about $130 million. It is linked to the Turkish Red Crescent in supporting the Syrian groups with money and weapons, the sources said.  

Mohammed Jassim Al Sulaiti, an aide to the Nusra Front, is a member of the RAF Foundation delegation and was placed on an anti-terror list by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in June 2017, the sources said.

Qatar and Turkey, close regional allies, are among nations suspected of funnelling cash and arms into Syria to support extremist proxies there. The governments of both countries vehemently deny the charges and accuse others, such as Saudi Arabia, of doing so. Russia and Syria are pressuring Ankara to crack down on such groups in the embattled province of Idlib, where Turkey stations troops, and have launched a military offensive there, raising concern for regional stability.

Kuwaiti cleric Nabil Al Awadi, exiled from the kingdom between 2014 and 2017, and Shafi Al Ajmi, an Islamic scholar detained by Kuwaiti police in 2014, are on a U.S. and UN blacklist, but are raising money through the RAF Foundation to support terror, the sources said.  

Other figures with direct relations with RAF are radical Istanbul-based Islamist cleric Wagdy Ghoneim, who also works as an associate assistant to Qatari Energy Minister Saad bin Saad Al Kaabi, and Qatari financier Abdullatif bin Abdullah Al Kuwari. Both are blacklisted by the United States for links to terrorism, they said. Ghoneim is a guest and lecturer at the Foundation, the sources added.

The brief seizure of three trucks carrying weapons to Syria from Turkey in early 2014, which were hidden under humanitarian aid supplies, raised suspicions of Turkey’s direct involvement in providing banned Islamist groups with weapons and financing. A political storm broke out in Turkey the following year when a newspaper released video footage of the incident. Prosecutors started legal proceedings against several journalists of the publication – the secular Cumhuriyet – accusing them of links to the banned Islamic movement of Fethullah Gülen.

The RAF Foundation has also spent $37 million supporting fighters in Sudan who belong to terrorist groups also backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the sources said.

Bank accounts used to receive money for the organisation are held at the Al Rayan Bank and Qatar Islamic Bank, both of which are facing corruption lawsuits, the sources said. Al Rayan has been under investigation in the United Kingdom for money laundering and terrorist financing since August last year, while an American journalist who was kidnapped by extremist militants in Syria six years ago began suing the Qatar Islamic Bank in January.