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US, Gulf countries form new group to stem flow of terror financing

An Iraqi soldier holds an Islamic State flag during a battle with Islamic State militants, north of Mosul, Iraq.
Ari Jalal | Reuters
An Iraqi soldier holds an Islamic State flag during a battle with Islamic State militants, north of Mosul, Iraq.

The United States and Persian Gulf countries have agreed to collaborate to stem the flow of terrorist financing as part of a new working group, the Treasury Department said on Sunday, with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia jointly chairing the initiative.

In a memorandum of understanding that announcing the newly created Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), the Treasury described the group as a "collaborative approach to confronting new and evolving threats arising from terrorist financing." The news comes as President Donald Trump delivers a major address to Muslims in Saudi Arabia as part of his first trip abroad.

In addition to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, the TFTC's members will consist of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The group's objectives include identifying, tracking and sharing information regarding terrorist financing, with the aim of disrupting the flow of money while providing support to the region in order to curb the flow of money to radical groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.

For its part, Qatar has a checkered history in the fight against eliminating cash that makes its way into the coffers of terrorists. Much like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf country has been cited by several watchdogs for funneling money to Middle East extremists, or not doing enough to choke off those flows.

A January report from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies chided Qatar's record on terror funding, saying that "there is no persuasive proof that Qatar has stopped letting certain terror financiers off the hook." Separately, an analysis from the Foreign Policy Initiative last year cited Saudi Arabia's "mixed record" in curbing terror funding, citing its own domestic concerns.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard pointed out as much on Sunday. On Twitter, the prominent Democrat derided the decision to include the world's largest oil exporter in the push against terror money as a "farce," given its history of funding an extreme interpretation of Islam that has pollinated other areas of the Middle East.

The newly created group will not supplant any bilateral agreements that agree to share and coordinate information, and will not siphon resources from any existing information-sharing structures, the statement added.

"Participants intend initially to work together to increase information sharing and coordinate sanctions and other disruptive actions against terrorist finance networks, with the goals of coordinating action against the highest-level threats and increasing joint actions as quickly as possible, with a longer term goal of co-locating experts in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia," the Treasury said.