The two Al Ajmis have spoken out against Isil but are suspected of supporting Al Nusra
Kuwait said on Thursday it was committed to fighting terrorism and its funding after the United States sanctioned three Kuwaitis accused of providing money, fighters and weapons to extremist groups.
“Kuwait is committed to fighting terrorism and its funding,” its ambassador to Washington Shaikh Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah said.
“Kuwait has passed legislation to fight terror and its financing and has established the executive tools to implement it,” the ambassador told the official Kuna news agency.
“The state of Kuwait continues to cooperate with the United States and the international community in combating this dangerous phenomenon,” he said.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Shafi Al Ajmi and Hajjaj Al Ajmi, accusing them of raising money for the Al Nusra front, an extremist group fighting in Syria.
Both men are said to be Kuwaiti.
A third man, Abdul Rahman Al Anizi, whose nationality was not disclosed, is accused of supporting the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which launched a devastating offensive in northwestern Iraq on June 9.
Kuna said that all three men are Kuwaitis.
US Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen on Wednesday called on the Kuwaiti government to do more to disrupt terrorist financing. The US Treasury reiterated its concern that private fund-raisers in the Gulf are using social media to solicit donations and communicate with fighters on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.
The Treasury alleges Shafi publicly admitted to collecting money under the auspices of charity and delivering the funds in person to the Al Nusra Front. The Treasury alleges that Hajaj agreed to provide financial support to the Al Nusra Front in exchange for installing Kuwaitis in the group’s leadership positions. The Treasury also alleges that Al Anzi worked with Isil on the travel of foreign fighters moving from Syria to Iraq, and from Kuwait to Afghanistan.
The Kuwaiti ambassador said he will follow up on Washington’s decision with the US State Department.
The two Al Ajmis are very popular figures in Kuwait for championing campaigns to raise funds for the “Syrian and Palestinian peoples”, according to advertisements on social networks, especially Twitter.
Their campaigns have been sponsored by leading Kuwaiti clerics.
But the two have expressed clear views against Isil, accusing it of having links with the Syrian government, Iran and even the United States.
Following the US decision, the Twitter accounts of the two Al Ajmis, who together had around 800,000 followers, were suspended. They could not be reached for comment.
Al Anizi did not have an account on Twitter.
Some religious figures in the Gulf have also publicly accused Shafi and Hajaj of supporting violent extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Shaikh Waseem Yousuf from the UAE dedicated a recent episode of his television show to outing the two as alleged Isil supporters in the Gulf.
Separately, Saudi-based Syrian Shaikh Adnan Al Aroor, who became one of the most inspirational anti-Syrian government figures, accused Hajaj on his television programme of “corruption in jihad”. He accused Hajaj of using people’s humanitarian charitable donations to fund Isil.
Hajaj denies that his money flows to Isil fighters and told reporters in June there is a “financial siege” on the Syrian uprising that has curbed charity for people under the guise of the “war on terror”. He said Western-allied Gulf countries are working to channel any aid to Syria for groups that support their policies there. Anyone who steps outside those boundaries is exposed to “media slandering”, he said.
However, Hajaj has openly admitted in videos online to sitting with members of Isil and the Al Nusra Front in attempted reconciliation meetings to try and end their clashes against one another for control of parts of Syria.
Shafi was quoted in Kuwait’s Al Rai newspaper in June describing the takeover of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul as a revolution and Sunni uprising. He said the Shiite-led Iraqi government is trying to frame it as being led by Isil in order to crush it.
Last year, government officials in Kuwait pulled Shafi off television a day after his show premiered on state television. The show was cancelled over previous comments of his that authorities said stoked tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and promoted the Al Nusra Front in Syria.
Under the order issued by the US Treasury, any assets the men hold in the United States are to be frozen and American citizens and residents are “generally prohibited” from doing business with them.
The latest US terrorism report on the country noted “increased reports of Kuwait-based private individuals funnelling charitable donations and other funds to violent extremist groups outside the country”.
On Tuesday, Social Affairs and Labour Minister Hind Al Sabeeh, announced tighter transparency rules to “correct the course” of charities gathering and distributing private donations.
The Islamic Affairs Ministry announced on the same day it had suspended all types of cash fund-raising inside Kuwait’s mosques, including collections “for the Syrian people”.
Shafi Al Ajmi
Shafi Bin Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Ajmi, who was accused by the US Treasury of providing money, fighters and weapons to extremists in Iraq and Syria, was born in 1973 in Kuwait.
His father died when Shafi was three years old and was subsequently brought up by his mother alongside his siblings within a conservatively religious environment.
He became fully committed to Islamic teachings at the age of 12.
Reportedly a bright student, he topped his classes and had the highest score when he graduated from high school.
His higher studies were at the University of Imam Mohammad Bin Saud where he obtained his PhD.
He set up two charity organisations and became involved in charity work in several countries, including Syria, Yemen and Bosnia.
However, he was relatively unknown until the outbreak of the crisis in Syria where he came to prominence through speeches and calls for jihad. He even had a programme on television that was promptly cancelled after its content was deemed offensive.
During the last 18 months, he reportedly worked on mobilising people and raising funds for fighting in Syria.
Through his speeches, he sought to exert pressure on the Gulf states to become militarily involved in Syria and unable to achieve his aim, he pushed for a physical and financial mobilisation of people in the Syrian issue, regardless of their countries’ official positions.