Qatar: Exiled sheikh promoted by Saudi Arabia now in Kuwait

AP News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2018 3:41 AM
Qatar: Exiled sheikh promoted by Saudi Arabia now in Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — An exiled Qatari sheikh once promoted by Saudi Arabia as a possible opposition leader amid a diplomatic dispute with Doha is now in Kuwait, authorities said Wednesday, after he had alleged that the United Arab Emirates was holding him against his will.

It's the latest chapter in Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani's mysterious travels, after he appeared in an online video on Sunday, following months of silence, to say the UAE wouldn't allow him to leave. Abu Dhabi has denied that, saying he was free to go where he pleased.

However, it only added fire to an ongoing dispute that saw the UAE allege this week that Qatari fighter jets "intercepted" two Emirati commercial airliners, something denied by Doha.

Qatar's National Human Rights Committee told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Sheikh Abdullah was in Kuwait and "will undergo health check-ups." The committee said it confirmed that with the sheikh's family.

Kuwaiti media reported that the sheikh arrived late on Tuesday night to Kuwait City, his flight greeted by an ambulance and a convoy of vehicles that took him to a military hospital.

Kuwait's Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sheikh Abdullah was little-known until the Qatar diplomatic crisis erupted last June, with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cutting off Doha's land, sea and air routes.

The four Arab nations accuse Qatar of funding extremists and having too-close ties to Iran. Qatar has long denied funding extremists, though it supports Islamist opposition movements that are considered terrorist groups by other countries in the region. It recently restored full diplomatic ties with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore natural gas field.

Sheikh Abdullah's grandfather, father and brother were rulers of Qatar until a palace coup ousted his branch of the ruling family in 1972. His last position in government was as head of the equestrian and camel racing federation decades ago.

Since the crisis, Sheikh Abdullah has held high-profile meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Those meetings came as Riyadh allowed Qatari pilgrims over the border in August for the hajj, a pilgrimage required of every able-bodied Muslim at least once in a lifetime.

The Saudis then began suggesting Sheikh Abdullah should rule Qatar as an emir in exile, while Saudi-funded television networks provided him coverage. A quickly created Twitter account in his name amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. However, the last tweet on the account came in October and Sheikh Abdullah has not been publicly seen for some time.

He remerged with an online video Sunday, immediately aired by Doha-based news network Al-Jazeera.

In it, Sheikh Abdullah says he was invited to Abu Dhabi as a guest of "Sheikh Mohammed," apparently a reference to Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who enjoys strong ties to Saudi Arabia's rulers.

"I am a guest of Sheikh Mohammed but it is not hosting now, it is now an imprisonment," Sheikh Abdullah says in the video. "They told me not to leave and I am afraid something will happen to me and they blame Qatar."

"I just wanted to let you know that Qatar is innocent in this and I am being hosted by Sheikh Mohammed and anything that happens to me after this is under his responsibility," he adds.

The report later Sunday on the UAE's state-run WAM news agency said Sheikh Abdullah was "free in his movements" while in the country.

"He expressed his desire to leave the country ... all procedures were facilitated without any interference," WAM said. It did not say where the sheikh went, though it implied he flew out Sunday. It wasn't immediately clear where the sheikh has been in recent days.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.