Washington has described its major Persian Gulf ally Kuwait as the “epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria,” insisting that the funds flowing from Kuwait to foreign-backed insurgents in Syria amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The amount of money flowing from Kuwaiti individuals and state-sanctioned organized charities to al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups in Syria such as al-Nusra Front totals in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the US-based daily Washington Post reports, citing experts whose estimates are endorsed by the US Department of Treasury.
Until recently, the daily adds, the small oil-rich Kuwait avoided public scrutiny as attention to terrorist financing focused more sharply on other Persian Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
A senior US Treasury official is then cited as saying in the report that since the latter three countries “made strides in addressing the problem,” American authorities focused on the funding activities of “the less forward-leaning steps taken in Kuwait.”
Washington then decided to go public with its concerns in March, when Treasury Department’s Undersecretary David Cohen issued an unusually undiplomatic statement for a close ally and called Kuwait “the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria.”
Such fundraising was not illegal in Kuwait until last year, when the government took advantage of an unrelated parliamentary boycott to push through a new law.
“Disappointingly, since then there has not been much vigor shown in implementing” a ban on terrorist financing, said an official that spoke on the condition of anonymity as quoted in the report.
Competition for funds and disputes among insurgent groups inside Syria that receive the massive funds have become so pervasive that they have contributed to the rise of extremist elements within the foreign-sponsored Syrian opposition and the inability to organize a critical mass of militants under a US-approved banner, reports said.
Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Nayef al-Ajmi who was singled out by Cohen as the man behind the fundraising for Syria terrorists, denied the allegation as “groundless” but resigned from his cabinet post shortly after his denial.
Cohen emphasized in a March statement that Ajmi had “a history of promoting jihad in Syria” and that his image had been featured on fundraising posters for a financier of the al-Nusra Front, a notorious terrorist group active in Syria.
Ajmi’s ministry said it would allow non-profit organizations and charities to collect donations for Syrians at Kuwaiti mosques, Cohen said, describing it as “a measure we believe can be easily exploited by Kuwait-based terrorist fundraisers.”
“Al-Ajmi affirmed that all his activities and efforts are part of Kuwait’s well-recognized official and unofficial efforts in charitable, religious and humanitarian realms,” it said.
Some Kuwaitis have gone to fight in the years-long conflict which has drawn in mostly al-Qaeda-linked insurgents and Takfiri terrorists from across the Middle East as well as Europe and Asia to stoke sectarian tensions.