Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning, further deepening a rift between Gulf Arab nations over Qatar’s support for Islamist groups.
In an official report, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar due to repeated offenses of failing to help protect Saudi Arabia from extremism and terrorists.
The Qatari Foreign Ministry responded later Monday morning, blasting the decision as “unjustified” and saying it was “based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact” and will have no influence on Qatar or its citizens. Qatar is a gas-rich nation that is scheduled to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Saudi Arabia has notified all Qatari citizens residing in the country that they must leave within 14 days; additionally, it will close all border crossings and suspend all flights to Qatar, and will remove Qatar from the Arab coalition fighting in Yemen. Saudi Arabia added that it will continue to support the Qatari people without official ties to its government.
“[Qatar] embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Al-Qaida, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” the Saudi state news agency SPA said, in an apparent reference to Qatar’s influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera.
The statement accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.
The United Arab Emirates told Qatari diplomats that they have 48 hours to leave the country. A report published by the U.A.E. noted that Qatar “funds and supports terror and extremist organizations.” Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.A.E. state-owned Etihad Airways said it will suspend all flights to and from Qatari capital Doha from Tuesday morning until further notice.
The last flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha will depart at 2:45 A.M. local time on Tuesday, the airline’s spokesman said in an email.
Qatar Airways said on its official website on Monday that it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.
Over the past week, a number of media outlets from Egypt and the U.A.E. quoted reports from the United States suspecting Qatar of funding terror organizations including Al-Qaida, Ahrar al-Sham, a group active in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist Islamist organizations like Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.
This is not the first time Qatar has come under fire from other Gulf nations. Three years ago, the ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to Qatar were recalled under the pretext of Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its ties to Iran. The ban lasted eight months, after which Qatar promised to “conform to the Arab platform” and the ambassadors were reinstated.
The decision to sever diplomatic ties comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel. Its Gulf Arab neighbors responded with anger, blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.