Speed Reads

the pitfalls of falconry

How a falconry trip gone bad might be at the root of the newest Middle Eastern drama

Qatar's massive rift with the other Gulf states might boil down to a $1 billion ransom fee paid to free a royal Qatari falconry party that was captured during a hunting trip in Iraq, the Financial Times reports.

In April, Qatar reportedly paid 13-figures to free 26 members of a royal hunting party who were kidnapped in 2015 by the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia, known as Kata'eb Hizbollah, as well as 50 militants who had been captured by jihadis in Syria. The transaction effectively put money into the pockets of both an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria and Iranian officials. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates announced that they were breaking off diplomatic ties with Qatar, with Saudi Arabia accusing Qatar of backing "terrorist groups aiming to destabilize the region." The countries are also halting air and sea travel to and from Qatar, with Saudi Arabia also closing down land crossings.

"The ransom payments are the straw that broke the camel's back," said one regional analyst.

Qatar poses as a neutral state in the Middle East, although it has been heavily criticized for apparently playing both sides. "If you want to know how Qatar funds jihadis, look no further than the hostage deal," one Syrian hostage negotiator told the Financial Times. "And this isn't the first — it is one of a series since the beginning of the war."

Doha has insisted that the pressure from its Gulf neighbors is unjustified and the allegations "have no basis in fact," although a person close to the government admitted the hostage payments were made. Read the full story at the Financial Times.