PARIS - The Leader of the ruling Socialist Party in France, Harlem Desir, slammed on Sunday "a form of indulgence" from Qatar "towards the terrorist groups who occupied northern Mali," asking the Gulf Emirate for a "policy clarification ".
Desir noted that "political statements of a number of Qatari officials had challenged the French intervention" in Mali.
"There is an attitude that is not cooperative and that can be considered as a form of leniency towards the terrorist groups who occupied northern Mali. This attitude coming from Qatar is not normal," added Desire at a weekly political programme on one of the Jewish community radio in France, Radio J.
"We need a policy clarification from Qatar who has always denied any role in funding terrorist groups. On the diplomatic level, Qatar should adopt a much stronger, and firmer position towards these groups who threaten the security of the Sahel region,” added Desire.
Qatar has a vested interest in the outcome of the north Mali crisis, according to various reports that have been picked up by French MPs, amid suspicion that Doha may be siding with the rebels to extend its regional influence.
Since Islamist groups exploited a military coup in the Malian capital of Bamako in early 2012 to take control of the entire north of the country, accusations of Qatari involvement in a crisis that has seen France deploy troops have been growing.
Two French politicians explicitly accused Qatar of giving material support to separatists and Islamists in north Mali, adding fuel to speculation that the Emirate is playing a behind-the-scenes role in spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Africa.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Communist Party Senator Michelle Demessine both said that that Qatar had questions to answer.
“If Qatar is objecting to France’s engagement in Mali it’s because intervention risks destroying Doha’s most fundamentalist allies,” Le Pen said in a statement on her party website, in response to a call by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani for dialogue with the Islamists.
The first accusations of Qatari involvement with Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups came in a June 2012 article in French weekly the Canard Enchaine.
In a piece title “Our friend Qatar is financing Mali’s Islamists”, the newspaper claimed that the oil-rich Gulf state was financing the separatists.
It quoted an unnamed source in French military intelligence saying: “The secular Tuareg separatists (MNLA), Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have all received cash from Doha.”
A month later told RTL radio: “The French government knows perfectly well who is supporting these terrorists. Qatar, for example, continues to send so-called aid and food every day to the airports of Gao and Timbuktu.”
The presence of Qatari NGOs in north Mali is no secret. Last summer, in the wake of the separatist takeover, the Qatari Red Crescent was the only humanitarian organisation granted access to the vast territory.
One member of the Qatari humanitarian team said at the end of June that they had simply “come to Gao to evaluate the humanitarian needs of the region in terms of water and electricity access.”
Regional geopolitical expert Mehdi Lazar, who specialises on Qatar, wrote in French weekly news magazine L’Express in December that Doha’s relationship with predominantly Muslim north Mali was deeply entrenched.
“Qatar has an established a network of institutions it funds in Mali, including madrasses (religious schools), schools and charities that it has been funding from the 1980s,” he wrote, adding that Qatar would be expecting a return on this investment.
“Mali has huge oil and gas potential and it needs help developing its infrastructure,” he said. “Qatar is well placed to help, and could also, on the back of good relations with an Islamist-ruled north Mali, exploit rich gold and uranium deposits in the country.”