Al-Qaeda and regional affiliate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) both published messages this weekend condemning the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, accusing the Islamist nation of attracting “immoral people, homosexuals, sowers of corruption and atheism” to the Middle East.
Both messages, one from the regional entity and one from the greater organization, omitted any specific threat to attack the soccer tournament, considered one of the most popular and prestigious sporting events in the world. The al-Qaeda statement, according to some translations, suggested Muslims in Qatar should “stone” haram visitors.
Al-Qaeda is a Sunni jihadist terrorist organization most famous for its role in the execution of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the American homeland. While for some time working under the shadow of the Islamic State, a former affiliate, its wing on the Arabian Peninsula has greatly benefited from the nearly eight-year-old civil war in Yemen.
The lack of direct threat to infrastructure or populated events in Qatar may be the result of that country’s longstanding friendships with Sunni jihadist organizations. American officials have long accused Qatari officials of protecting al-Qaeda terrorists, including some implicated in the September 11 attacks. The Taliban, currently the de facto government of Afghanistan, maintained a “political office” in Qatar throughout the 20-year Afghan War that it used to negotiate with America. Qatar has also supported the Muslim Brotherhood, a jihadist political party with a militant wing, and faced legal claims in response to allegations that it supported al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria the Nusra Front.
While, for much of the world, FIFA granting Qatar authority to host the 2022 World Cup was met with outrage over its Islamist legal code and rampant documented human rights abuses, particularly against women and people the regime identifies as LGBT, al-Qaeda complained that Qatar was inviting too many “immoral people” into the Middle East by hosting the event.
“We warn our Muslim brothers from following this event or attending it,” a statement published this weekend before the event began on Sunday read, attributed to AQAP. The message complained that Qatar had attracted “immoral people, homosexuals, sowers of corruption and atheism into the Arabian Peninsula.”
On Sunday, multiple sources – including the SITE Intelligence Group monitor and France 24 journalist Wassim Nasr – reported that the greater al-Qaeda organization had published another statement claiming the soccer tournament was a “pornographic campaign against the peninsula of Mohammed.”
#AlQaeda appelle au boycott de la coupe du monde au #Qatar, « Au sujet de la campagne pornographique contre la péninsule de Mohamed » accusant les pays du Golfe de « travailler à la solde des croisés pour éloigner les musulmans de la péninsule de leur foi musulmane » pic.twitter.com/aPYqOHzdpT
— Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr) November 20, 2022
The statement, according to an unverified translation by the British Daily Star, claimed that “Zionist-Crusaders” were using soccer to launch an “invasion” of the Arabian Peninsula.
“Their acts are alien to our conservative societies and our Muslim peoples. Only they [Muslims] can do their jobs by stoning them,” the terrorists allegedly advised.
— SITE Intel – Jihadist Threat (@siteintel_jt) November 20, 2022
Jihadists attacking Qatar for not conducting a sufficiently fundamentalist World Cup is the latest in years of criticisms of the country as an inappropriate venue for the soccer tournament, beginning with widespread concerns that Qatar was abusing, and in some cases killing, migrant workers to meet the deadlines for constructing necessary venues by 2022. In 2016, one study estimated that as many as 60 percent of people in Qatar lived in highly monitored labor camps, many of them foreigners lured into the country from impoverished areas of Southeast Asia and then trapped by the confiscation of their passports. Human rights organizations have compiled complaints from workers who say employers do not pay their salaries and threatened to deport them if they complain. A report published last year by the British newspaper the Guardian found that at least 6,500 people died building World Cup stadiums and other facilities.
Qatar is also notoriously abusive towards gay people, suspected LGBT people, and women generally. In a report published this month, interviews with victims of the Qatari criminal system revealed beatings, abuse, and even gang rape at the hands of Qatari police officers for attempting to meet up with same-sex partners for dates. No reports indicate that al-Qaeda issued any statements of approval or addressed Qatar’s abuse against gay people in its rants about the World Cup inviting “homosexuality” to the region.
Western free governments have warned fans and tourists traveling to the World Cup that a wide variety of legal behavior in their home countries – such as drinking alcohol, eating pork, or possessing sex toys – could result in their arrest in Qatar. “Religious” books, presumably non-Islamic materials, could also result in arrest.
Qatar has also faced longstanding accusations, including formal criminal investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, that it bribed FIFA for hosting rights.
Qatari leaders have responded to global disgust with its government by accusing detractors of racism. Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri used the word “racism” directly in response to the criticism in an interview with the AFP this month.
“They don’t want to allow a small country, an Arab country, an Islamic country, to organize the World Cup,” he said.
Then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter also accused “a great deal of discrimination and racism” for the criticism and accusations of bribery in 2015, but he has since called allowing Qatar to host a “mistake.”
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani called concerns about human rights in his country an “unprecedented campaign” to tarnish the image of his country in October.
“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced,” the emir said. “We initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects of ours that need to be developed.”
“But it soon became clear to us,” he concluded, “that the campaign continues, expands and includes fabrication and double standards, until it reached a level of ferocity that made many question, unfortunately, about the real reasons and motives behind this campaign.”