The Spanish Foreign Ministry thanked Doha on 7 May for its efforts in securing the release of three of its nationals held by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN). The Spanish journalists, who were kidnapped near Aleppo, are the latest foreign hostages to be freed as a result of Qatari mediation, recent examples of this being the release of US journalist Peter Theo Curtis in August 2014 and sixteen members of the Lebanese security forces in December. Madrid likely paid the ransom on this occasion.
Doha’s success in negotiating the release of foreigners captured in Syria and Iraq reflects how it has developed a working relationship with JaN and other radical groups, such as the Salafist-jihadist Ahrar al-Sham (AaS). Qatar officially denies this in a bid to protect its reputation, but the Government nonetheless believes that the policy has enabled it to act as a regional mediator and thereby maximise its influence. However, it has also strained ties with the US, which has urged Doha to introduce robust measures to restrict jihadist fundraising activity on its soil – something it has only partially implemented. Qatar will therefore feel that the release of the Spanish journalists has vindicated its approach towards JaN, and will consequently continue to mediate with the group over hostage payments and permit its citizens to maintain a direct relationship with it.