Kuwait detains Muslim cleric US suspects of militants' financing

Reuters , Monday 18 Aug 2014

Shafi Al-Ajmi
Snapshot from a Youtube video of Kuwaiti cleric Shafi Al-Ajmi

Kuwait has detained a prominent Sunni Muslim cleric less than two weeks after the United States included him on a sanctions list for allegedly funnelling money to militants in Iraq and Syria, his lawyer said on Monday.

Shafi al-Ajmi was detained on the border with Saudi Arabia on Sunday while returning from a pilgrimage. "He is at the state security compound," his lawyer, Mohammed al-Jumia, told Reuters by telephone. "So far, there are no charges."

An Interior Ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Some Islamist activists in the Gulf have exploited their governments' support for an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad to channel millions of dollars to militants.

Kuwait has been one of the biggest humanitarian donors to Syrian refugees through the United Nations, but it has also struggled to control unofficial fundraising for opposition groups in Syria by private individuals.

The government of the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state has stepped up its monitoring of individuals and charities suspected of collecting donations for militants linked to al Qaeda in Syria and in Iraq.

On Aug. 6, the United States imposed sanctions on Shafi and two other men suspected of funnelling money from Kuwait to Islamic State, the al Qaeda splinter group that has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. Washington also said the men had had helped smuggle fighters to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last year, Kuwait banned a television show that Shafi appeared on, saying it incited hatred.

As well as calling for armed opposition to Assad, Shafi has called on supporters to torture and kill fighters in Syria linked to the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, evidence of how the Syria conflict has aggravated Sunni-Shi'ite tensions across the Middle East.

Kuwaiti Information Minister Sheikh Salman al-Humoud al-Sabah said at the time that authorities would investigate how a show featuring the cleric was allowed to be broadcast on state television.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on six people suspected of financing Islamist militants, including two Kuwaitis, in a move aimed at weakening Islamic State and al Qaeda's Syrian wing, Nusra Front.

One of the sanctioned Kuwaitis was identified as Hajjaj al-Ajmi, another prominent Muslim cleric who belongs to the same extended tribe as Shafi al-Ajmi's.

Charles Lister, an expert on Islamist militant financing, has written that some of these individuals, including Shafi and Hajjaj, "openly express their support for extremist organizations or are photographed with them during visits to Syria". 

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