WASHINGTON – When Qatars royal family was looking for advice on charitable giving, it turned to a well-regarded professor named Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaymi.
The 59-year-old educator had a stellar résumé that included extensive fundraising experience and years of work with international human rights groups.
But one apparent accomplishment was omitted from the list: According to U.S. officials, Nuaymi also was working secretly as a financier for al-Qaida, funneling millions of dollars to the terrorist groups affiliates in Syria and Iraq even as he led campaigns in Europe for greater freedoms for Muslims.
Nuaymi was one of two men identified by Treasury Department officials last week as major financial backers of al-Qaida and its regional chapters across the Mideast. Although U.S. officials routinely announce steps to disrupt terrorist financing networks, the individuals named in the latest case are far from ordinary: Both men have served as advisers to government-backed foundations in Qatar and have held high-profile positions with international human rights groups. The second man, a Yemeni, drew part of his salary from U.N. funds underwritten by U.S. taxpayers.
Their alleged dual roles – promoting humanitarian causes and civil rights while simultaneously supporting extremist groups – reflect a growing challenge faced by counterterrorism officials attempting to monitor the torrents of cash flowing to Islamist rebel groups in Syria, current and former U.S. officials say.
Individuals with one foot in the legitimate world and another in the realm of terrorist financing provide al-Qaida with a cloak of legitimacy, said Juan Zarate, a former Treasury official and author of Treasurys Wars, a book that describes U.S. efforts to penetrate terrorist financial networks.
Zarate said such cases greatly complicate the financial diplomacy involved in attempting to disrupt terrorist support networks, especially private funding from wealthy Persian Gulf donors seeking to help Syrias rebels.
The administrations action last week named Nuaymi and the Yemeni national, Abd al-Wahhab al-Humayqani, as specially designated global terrorists, a determination that allows U.S. officials to freeze their financial assets and bar American citizens and companies from doing business with them.
Nuaymi, in a response posted on Twitter last week, said the allegations were a retaliation for his criticism of U.S. policies, including drone strikes in Yemen and U.S. support for the recent overthrow of Egypts democratically elected government. He said the U.S. claims about his fundraising work were far from the truth.
Humayqani was traveling and could not be reached for comment. A statement released by his Rashad Union party condemned what it called false accusations by the United States.