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Saudi Arabia Accuses Qatar of Backing Terrorism

Source: NBC News

Almost a year ago,Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning, further deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over that country’s support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar, a gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is home to a major U.S. military base. Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen.

The countries also were ejecting Qatar’s diplomats from their territories. The Qatari government has not responded to the severing of diplomatic ties, though it has previously denied funding extremist groups.

All the nations also said they planned to cut air and sea traffic. Saudi Arabia said it also would shut its land border with Qatar, effectively cutting off the country from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. Bahrain said it was giving its citizens in Qatar 14 days to leave.

Saudi Arabia said it cut diplomatic ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region” including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, ISIS and groups supported by Iran in the kingdom’s restive eastern province of Qatif.

Before the announcement, Qatar had appeared unperturbed by the growing tensions. On May 27, Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, called Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani meets with President Donald Trump in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 21, 2017.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters, file

The call was a clear, public rebuttal of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to force Qatar to fall in line against the Shiite-ruled nation, which the Sunni kingdom sees as its No. 1 enemy and a threat to regional stability. Qatar shares a massive offshore gas field with Iran.

President Donald Trump met with Al Thani during his visit to Saudi Arabia last month for a summit with Arab leaders.

“We are friends, we’ve been friends now for a long time, haven’t we?” Trump asked at the meeting. “Our relationship is extremely good.”

Qatar is also home to the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, which is home to the U.S. military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. It wasn’t clear if the decision would affect American military operations. Central Command officials and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an “antagonist approach” toward Egypt and said “all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed.”

The tiny island nation of Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the decision would affect its operations.

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