More police raids on militant hideouts in Kuwait and the strength of the militants’ armed response demonstrate the extremists’ continuing vigor. They also illustrate how the broader jihadist wave — irrespective of an al-Qaeda connection — is spreading in the Gulf.
On January 30 Kuwaiti security forces stormed a building in the Salmiyya residential district of the capital. In the ensuing gunfight Nasser Slaif al-Enezi, a fundamentalist high on Kuwait’s most-wanted list, was killed and two others arrested. The next day a police raid on a suspected safe-house for militants in the Mubarak al-Kabir neighborhood set off another, more dramatic, gunfight — the fourth such confrontation in a month and the biggest yet. This left a tally of five radicals killed and the arrest of the alleged spiritual leader Amer Khulayf al-Enezi.
From the total of arrests and fatalities to date, the cell operating in Kuwait numbered about 30 and, according to official sources, was made up of various nationalities — Kuwait, Saudi, Jordanian, Yemeni and Bidoon (stateless Arabs resident on Kuwaiti territory). The group appears to be using several names. While an incident on January 15 was claimed by a group calling itself the ‘Mujahideen of Kuwait’, a January 27 report in the Saudi daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, referred to their leader, Amer Khulayf al-Enezi, as heading a group named ‘The Brigades of the Two Shrines (i.e. Makka and Madina) in Kuwait’ (www.aawsat.com). Detainees from the most recent incidents employed the terms ‘Sharia Falcons Squadrons’ and ‘Peninsula Lion Brigades’. The last name tallies with a posting on February 1 on an Islamist forum, which featured a statement addressed to the Kuwaiti government of a ‘Great War’ coming if the U.S. forces did not leave the country. It warned of “an event in which many innocent victims will fall, and you will be responsible for these victims for your opposition to our demands … if you refuse, then you have chosen the perilous course and it will be the end to your tyranny.”
Analysts differ on whether there are formal links among militants or whether al-Qaeda has merely aided in logistics for attacks. The ingenuity with which the mujahideen concealed their armory – dispersed in public utility boxes on city streets – certainly corresponds to instructions on weapons concealment published by the online al-Qaeda training manuals. But a further term employed by the Kuwaiti group, and used in the above warning posting, was ‘The Martyr Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin Brigades.’ This is the first occurrence of this name, but it gives a clear identification to al-Qaeda, in that the name is that of the military leader of the ‘al-Qaeda in the Peninsula’ group, slain by Saudi security forces last June. The name ‘al-Qaeda in the Peninsula’ is itself a significant pointer to intentions, in that it lumps the entire Gulf region together into one, thereby disregarding the current borders.
Confirmation of some level of Al-Qaeda connection came with the results of the interrogation of Amer Khulayf al-Enezi. A Februar 3 report in the Arab language liberal journal Elaph, quoting security sources, featured Al-Enezi explaining how official Al-Qaeda spokesman Sulayman Abu Ghayth was fully au fait with the operation in Kuwait, via Abu Omar al-Saudi (thought killed in the recent confrontations). Al-Enezi described the long term aims of the group as the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the country, by means of wide-scale bombing operations and assassinations (www.elaph.com).
More internally focused analyses by experts of the region, tend to be more specifically occupied by what is perhaps the nub of the issue: the increasingly radicalism-friendly environment the Kuwaiti state presents. Indeed it is the lack of understanding of Kuwait’s changing political and social environment that has permitted the phenomenon to flourish. Some pointers to this were the revelations made earlier in January of plots by senior Kuwaiti military officers against western targets. The Kuwaiti government saw earlier developments of this nature as isolated manifestations of a vague anti-American sentiment among the general population, and according to Saudi academic Ali al-Tarrah writing in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, “continued its policy of live and let live with radical Islamist elements, in the hope that such a course would immunize Kuwait against any future conflict with these forces” (www.aawsat.com).
The above February 1 posting also asked Kuwaitis to ‘help them in every way,’ and requested local Muslim scholars to support the mujahideen. That the mujahideen were confident that this would not go unanswered was best illustrated by a report in the Kuwait daily Al-Seyassah. This described how a government civil servant was caught sticking posters supporting Bin Laden and the Kuwaiti mujahideen — inside the Information Ministry itself (www.alseyassah.com). Al-Seyassah has also entered into controversy for publishing photographs of leading Islamist members of parliament in the company of Khalid al-Dusari. During his interrogation, Al-Enezi explicitly named Khalid al-Dusari as the real head of the ‘Peninsula Lions Brigades’.
Belatedly, the government is initiating a wide-scale educational program to counter the influence of unchecked radicalism. According to Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a legislative committee staffed by religious leaders is to counter ‘deviant and extremist ideas’ by setting up training courses and a center for the study and analysis of extremist publications, including a team to study communications on the internet (www.aawsat.com). Meanwhile Islamic news site Mufakkirat al-Islam reported on January 31 that up to 17 imams had already been taken to court due to “activities contrary to the function of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the mosque” (www.islammemo.cc).
If there are any immediate lessons to derive from the attacks, they are that the fears of the spillover effect from the conflict in Iraq appear to have been corroborated — by the confessions of captives to have reached the Emirate from Fallujah and Ramadi; that the commonly held linkage between lack of democracy and the rise of terrorism is not operative — the Kuwaiti system, with an elected parliament and a free press, is representative and responsive to the public mood; and that the common jihadist ideological factor (at present expressed through the slogan to “expel the polytheists from the peninsula”) has the potential to override any obstacles put in the way by national identities in the Gulf region. As this issue’s article on Oman shows, it may even override doctrinal differences. Islamist terrorism looks set to creep down the Gulf coast in waves.