Paddy Ashdown suggests Tory-Arab ties undermining efforts to combat extremism
Concerns have been raised that Saudi Arabia and Qatar support religious fanatics such as the so-called Islamic State group in order to prevent the rise of Shia power in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has rejected claims it has directly funded the extremist group, although wealthy Saudi individuals have sent it cash and some 2,500 Saudis have travelled to join its fight.
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Liberal Democrat peer Lord Ashdown called on the Prime Minister to launch an inquiry into the funding of jihadism and to put pressure on the Gulf states to do more in the battle against the group.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, he raised concerns about links between the Conservative party and wealthy Arabs that could be preventing greater investigation and pressure.
“The failure to put pressure on the Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, first of all to stop funding the Salafists and Wahhabists, secondly to play a larger part in this campaign and other actions where the Government has refused to have a proper inquiry into the funding of jihadism in Britain, leads me to worry about the closeness between the Conservative party and rich Arab Gulf individuals,” he said.
Lord Ashdown admitted it was a “serious charge”, but argued it was backed up by the Government’s failure to publish an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood that “didn’t find what the Saudis wanted it to find”.
He suggested David Cameron had made a snap-decision to launch the inquiry at the request of Saudi Arabia, but that it had "never been published because it came to a conclusion unhelpful to the Saudis”.
The Lib Dem former leader insisted the plan Mr Cameron intends to put forward on Thursday to persuade Parliament to bomb Islamic State in Syria must include international pressure on Gulf states.
“One element of this, which is pressure on the Gulf states to stop funding Sunni jihadism, and pressure on the Gulf states if we are going to send aircraft in to make sure theirs are present too, is a crucial part of this strategy,” he said.
Lord Ashdown said if Mr Cameron failed to meet his expectations “we are entitled to ask some questions why not”.
He also said the Lib Dems could "possibly" back the extension of RAF strikes from Iraq into Syria depending on the Government's proposal.
MPs are set to vote on whether Britain should bomb Isil targets in Syria next week.