(CNSNews.com) – Speaking about the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Thursday, President Obama accused unnamed countries in the Middle East of having financed “some of these groups” – seemingly contradicting repeated State Department assertions that the U.S. has no information that countries like Qatar have been funding ISIS.
During a press conference at the White House dominated by the threat posed by ISIS, Obama spoke of the need for “states in the region [to] stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups.”
“The truth is that we’ve had state actors who at times have thought that the way to advance their interests is – well, financing some of these groups as proxies is not such a bad strategy,” he said.
“And part of our message to the entire region is this should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to Shi’a, to everybody, that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.
“And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together – even if we have differences on a range of political issues – to make sure that they’re rooted out,” Obama said.
Although the president referred to “extremist groups” rather than ISIS specifically, the comments were made in the context of remarks about ISIS. He mentioned no other jihadist group in the region by name.
The State Department has acknowledged concerns about support for ISIS from “private citizens” in Qatar and elsewhere in the region, but says it does not know of support from governments.
When a reporter during a press briefing last week cited a German government minister who accused Qatar of funding ISIS, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We don’t have evidence that governments are supporting this group. I’ve said that over and over and over again in this briefing room.”
The U.S. regards Qatar as a key regional partner, and the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command is located at an airbase there. The Pentagon last month announced an agreement to sell Qatar $11 billion worth of Apache helicopters and Patriot and Javelin defense systems.
The emirate’s rulers have long been supportive of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and have cordial relations with the Taliban, hosting a political office for the al-Qaeda ally in Doha. Claims have also emerged in recent years that Qatar’s backing for rebels fighting to topple Syria’s Assad regime has extended to jihadist groups.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, voiced concern last March about reports that the Qatari government was supporting “extremist groups operating in Syria.”
Cohen did not mention ISIS by name, but a former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency last month suggested that both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were at least turning a blind eye to “substantial and sustained funding” going from their countries to ISIS. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made similar allegations.
Last week a German government minister suggested that Qatar was financing ISIS, although after Qatar protested Germany’s foreign ministry backtracked.
The accusation prompted Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah to issue a denial: “Qatar does not support extremist groups, including ISIS, in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions.”