DOHA (AFP) – The emir of Qatar has denied repeated accusations that his country funds extremist groups in Syria, while stressing the Gulf state’s commitment to the US-led campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants.
“We don’t fund extremists,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said in an interview with CNN aired Thursday. “If you talk about certain movements, especially in Syria and Iraq, we all consider them terrorist movement.”
“But there are differences. There are differences that some countries and some people (believe) that any group which comes from Islamic background are terrorists. And we don’t accept that.”
Qatar has been accused of funding extremist groups in Syria, as well as Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, following Arab Spring uprisings.
But the gas-rich emirate, home to a major US military base, is now taking part in Washington’s campaign against the Islamic State group, which has seized swaths of Iraq and Syria.
The emir confirmed this participation.
“We’ve been asked by our American friends if we can join, and we did,” he said.
But he insisted that beyond defeating extremist movements in Syria, the long-term aim should be to punish the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“The main cause of all this is the regime in Syria, and this regime should be punished,” he said.
“If we think that we’re going to get rid of the terrorist movements and leave those regimes doing what – this regime especially, doing what he is doing – then terrorist movements will come back again,” he warned.
More than 180,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to a monitoring group. The United Nations puts the figure at 191,000.