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Foreign sponsors of terror should be held accountable

Much attention has focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, and on foreign manipulation in social media targeting American voters. However, not as much attention is being paid to foreign cyberterrorism that is affecting the lives of individual citizens, or to foreign sponsors of terrorism.

In 2014, for example, North Korea was believed to have been behind a major hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and its executives. Last year, we learned that Qatar’s news outlet, Al Jazeera, ran a months-long spy operation aimed at US Jews and pro-Israel groups. And the Gulf nation had hacked prominent private citizens in the United States, including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach – known as “America’s Rabbi” – among many others.

That Qatar is involved in cyberattacks shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s also long been a sponsor of terrorism and continues to fund Hamas, a designated terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and numerous other countries. Hamas regularly praises as “martyrs” those killed while carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel and gives money – often provided by Qatar – to their families. It has fired rockets into Israel, infiltrated the Jewish state to kidnap soldiers and dug underground tunnels so it could smuggle arms into Gaza – all in its effort to destroy Israel, and all with financial backing from Qatar.

Qatar also has supported other terrorist groups, including the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates. The BBC reported that in April 2017, Qatar allegedly paid a ransom of as much as $1 billion to “a former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria and to Iranian security officials as part of a deal that resulted in the release of 26 royal family members reportedly kidnapped by Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militiamen and of dozens of Shia fighters captured by jihadists in Syria.”

The Anti-Defamation League last month – pointing to abhorrent, hateful antisemitic cartoons that demonize Jews and often appear on editorial pages – called on the Qatari government to follow its own press law that prohibits “the publication of ‘any ridicule of or contempt toward any of the religions or their doctrines, including any motivation of sectarian, racial, or religious trends’ or any content that harms goodwill toward a person through ‘defamation.’”

In recent years, we have seen Qatar become increasingly cozy with Iran. Qatar clearly is a problematic country, but the United States has not taken enough action.

It’s time to change that. All countries must be held accountable for their actions.

One way to hold Qatar accountable is the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2017, designed to “prevent Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any affiliate or successor from accessing its international support networks.” It would require the president to report to Congress on any individuals or entities connected to foreign states that are financing Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Another way to hold Qatar accountable would be to enable US victims of terrorism to sue in US courts the Gulf nations or entities it supports. For years, US victims of terrorism have been able to sue state sponsors of terrorism for the pain they have inflicted. Iran, for example, has billions of dollars frozen in US banks as victims attempt to claim its assets for restitution.

It’s time to change that and empower affected families to use civil litigation as an additional path to end Qatari support for Palestinian terrorist groups.

The 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) put into law a longstanding practice of honoring sovereign immunity when anyone files a civil suit against a foreign government in a US court. Amendments to FSIA are not without precedent: The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act allowed victims of foreign terrorism committed US soil to sue.

It’s time for another amendment to FSIA, one that would allow a terrorism exception to the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state, whether that is physical terrorism or cyberterrorism. So long as Qatar sponsors terrorism, it should not be protected.

 

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