August 7, 2014 | Policy Brief
Kuwait’s Terrorism Finance Problems Compound
Just one day after Kuwait announced new financial regulations to counter terrorism finance, the U.S. Treasury Department yesterday imposed sanctions on three individuals for fundraising in Kuwait on behalf of terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.
On Tuesday, Kuwait’s Social Affairs and Labor Minister, Hind al Sabeeh, declared that charities in the country would now be required to declare a list of donors and beneficiaries, as well as to receive “officially stamped receipts from the ministry” for all transactions. Additionally, the country’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments announced Tuesday it was suspending all fundraising inside Kuwaiti mosques, including for the “Syrian people.” The move appeared to be in response to warnings from Washington earlier this year that mosque fundraising “can be easily exploited by Kuwait-based terrorist fundraisers.”
Two of the individuals blacklisted by Washington on Wednesday were found to be backing Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra. Shafi al Ajmi and Hajjaj al Ajmi each ran a prominent public network for funding and equipping Islamist fighters against the Assad regime in Syria. Both men were blamed by Human Rights Watch last year for supporting a military offensive by radical Syrian rebels that led to the mass execution of Alawite villagers, a probable war crime.
The third individual sanctioned by the U.S. government on Wednesday, Abdulrahman al Anizi, has maintained a lower public profile, and the Treasury Department’s dossier on him omits his nationality, exact birth date, or whether he is currently in Kuwait. However, what the U.S. does know about al Anizi is that he has played a significant role channeling funds from Kuwait to the terrorist group now known as the Islamic State. He apparently also helped send aspiring jihadists from Kuwait to Afghanistan, with aid from Al Qaeda operatives in Iran.
The designation of these three individuals must be understood as yet another step in a wider U.S. Treasury campaign to curb illicit finance in Kuwait. Earlier this year, U.S. officials called Kuwait a “permissive jurisdiction” for terrorist finance and spoke out against the appointment of a government minister (who has since been dismissed) with extensive personal ties to terrorism finance. Officials also called the country the “epicenter” of fundraising for Syrian terrorist groups.
The U.S. Treasury will be watching now to see if Kuwait takes legal action against these individuals. But the likelihood is low, given that the Kuwaiti government continues to grant impunity to the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, a local relief group that was blacklisted in 2008 for providing material support to Al Qaeda.
The Treasury will also watch to see if Kuwait implements its own newly announced regulations. Kuwait recently created a Financial Intelligence Unit, but as of April U.S. officials privately complained that it “is still not operating”.
David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.