As a sign of the increased vulnerability felt by Kuwait to the twin pressures of the US-led campaign in Iraq and the spread of jihadist ideology throughout the peninsula, the last month has seen some stepped up anti-jihadist activity in the emirate. Last July, a group of Islamist activists were arrested for allegedly recruiting Kuwaitis to fight in Iraq. This followed Syria’s extradition to the emirate of four Kuwaitis who were planning to cross into Iraq to join Islamic militant groups there. Subsequently, over the next weeks, Kuwait security forces went on to detain 20 people suspected of operating a recruiting network. Some of the detainees had already undergone military training inside Kuwait or Syria, and the hitherto unsuspected link between Kuwaiti nationals and Iraqi insurgents was highlighted by local media reports – not independently confirmed – of Kuwaitis killed in battles with the US-led forces there.
Of particular interest was the detention in August of Muhsin al-Fadli and Adel Buhaimed, both suspected of being important al-Qaeda fund-raisers in the Gulf region. Authorities had been searching for these, and for three other Kuwaitis, one of them a Parliamentary aide, on charges of recruiting Kuwaiti youths, most of them juniors under the age of 18. Both al-Fadli and Buhaimed were the subject of an investigation in 2002 for suspected links to al-Qaeda, and on suspicion of sending money to Yemeni Mujahideen for the purpose of blowing up a hotel frequented by Americans. Members of the same cell in Yemen were also involved in an October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole and an October 2002 attack on the French supertanker the Limburg. Investigators established that travel patterns of the two men indicate that in addition to the bombing of the USS Cole, they were involved in the May 12 2003 attack on three residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Against this backdrop of accelerated jihadist activity, Kuwaiti authorities conducted an investigation into mosque preachers suspected of disseminating hard-line jihadist ideology. Although the investigation also embraced preachers of the Shi’ite denomination, most of the twelve or so under investigation were Sunni clerics of Egyptian nationality, who predominate Kuwaiti mosques. A significant portion of these have ties with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which, while advertising its interest in participation within Egypt’s political system, is less reticent about calling for radical solutions abroad.
While it is unclear what specific measures the Kuwaiti authorities will take, the Islamic Affairs Minister, Abdullah al-Maatuk, revealed on August 18 that they are setting up three teams of clerics and experts in the fields of sociology, psychology and education, who will draft plans to “combat extremism and terrorism which have reached a dangerous level” in the country. The program is particularly geared to “guide and reform” young Kuwaitis returning to the country from Iraq. The Kuwaiti response reflects the exposure of the emirate to Islamic militancy, given its position between Iraq and Saudi Arabia where jihadis have successfully established footholds, and the overt and controversially pro-US policies pursued by its government.