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Kuwait detains cleric US suspects of militant financing
August 19, 2014, 8:27 am
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Kuwaiti cleric Shafi Al Ajmi at an anti-Hezbollah rally in front of the Lebanese embassy in Kuwait. Al Ajmi is suspected of funnelling money to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Shafi Al Ajmi was detained on the border with Saudi Arabia while returning from a pilgrimage.

Kuwait has detained a prominent Sunni 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, Mohammad 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 Syrian 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 US-allied state has stepped up its monitoring of individuals and charities suspected of collecting donations for militants linked to Al Qaida in Syria and in Iraq.

On August 6, the United States imposed sanctions on Al Ajmi and two other men suspected of funnelling money from Kuwait to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) the Al Qaida 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 Al Ajmi appeared on, saying it incited hatred.

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

Kuwaiti Information Minister Shaikh 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 UN Security Council imposed sanctions on six people suspected of financing Islamist militants, including two Kuwaitis, in a move aimed at weakening Isil and Al Qaida’s Syrian wing, Al Nusra Front.

One of the sanctioned Kuwaitis was identified as Hajjaj Al Ajmi, another prominent 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 organisations or are photographed with them during visits to Syria”.

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