Qatar is facing legal action in the UK after 330 Syrian refugees accused it of funding a militant group in Syria which tortured them.
The 330 Syrians took their case to the High Court in London this week, claiming that they had suffered under torture at the hands of the Al-Nusra Front – or Jabhat Al-Nusra – and alleging that Qatari funding was behind the militia.
The refugees, most of whom reside in the UK, seek legal action against Qatar’s state-run Doha Bank and two brothers named Moutaz and Ramez Al Khayyat, both wealthy businessmen from the Gulf state.
It comes after eight claimants first lodged their cases with the court and were due to have their first hearing this week, before it was halted as British anti-terror police launched an investigation into claims that they had been threatened.
Those claimants are reported to have been spied on and harassed by having their cars bugged, being threatened in their homes, and being bribed to reveal the identities of each other after they were kept anonymous by the court.
According to the more recent court papers, “There is a pending application before the court to add 330 additional claimants, who are resident in various parts of Europe, including a substantial number resident in the UK.”
The papers went on to say that the refugees “are victims of terrorism perpetrated by Al Nusra Front in Syria and have been victims of a range of grave human rights violations, including torture, summary and arbitrary execution and other violations of the right to life.”
The Doha Bank and the Al Khayyat brothers are alleged to have “together operated a clandestine route for the funding of Al Nusra on behalf of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Al Thani and the state of Qatar.”
Qatar’s alleged funding of the militia was, according to the papers, “an act of terrorism, since it amounted to the preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.”
The date of the next hearing will reportedly be in 2021.
The Doha Bank’s legal team has labelled the Syrians’ claims as “wild accusations”.
In the early years of the ongoing nine-year Syrian conflict, several regional and foreign states backed various elements of the Syrian opposition while Russia and Iran backed the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
While much of the opposition was made up of moderate groups such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and its affiliates, there later emerged various extremist groups linked with Al-Qaeda. One of which was Jabhat Al-Nusra, which now goes by the name of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the strongest group within opposition-held north-western Syria. Although its past is rooted in extremism, it claims that it has broken off from those links and reformed itself.
Arab Gulf states such Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were some of those which funded the Syrian opposition groups in the early years. While Doha’s current stance is not yet clear, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have largely ceased their ties with the opposition in recent years, and have instead shown warmer ties with the Assad regime in Damascus.