Kuwait official quits post; U.S. accused him of funding extremist fighters in Syria

A Kuwaiti cabinet minister has resigned his post following U.S. allegations that he has been a fundraiser for al-Qaeda-linked extremist fighters in Syria, according to Kuwaiti media reports.

Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Nayef al-Ajmi, in a posting on his Twitter account, said, “I thank the emir for accepting my resignation and understanding its reasons.”

In a March speech, a senior Treasury Department official said Ajmi’s appointment was a “step in the wrong direction” for Kuwait, which he described as “the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria.”

The Kuwaiti cabinet called the allegations by David S. Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, “baseless and groundless” and issued a statement expressing “displeasure.” It refused to accept Ajmi’s resignation when he initially offered it last month for what he said were health reasons.

Cohen had charged that Ajmi “has a history of promoting jihad. . . . In fact, his image has been featured on fundraising posters” for Jabhat al-Nusra, a group of Syrian opposition fighters that the Obama administration has designated a foreign terrorist organization.

The administration has been striving to organize and funnel outside aid to Syrian rebel groups that it has vetted to determine they are “moderate.” That goal has been frustrated by flows of money from wealthy Persian Gulf individuals and charities they organize, which it charges have sent funds and weapons directly to unapproved opposition groups.

The problem has been particularly acute in Kuwait, administration officials said, where financial controls and enforcement of existing laws are weak.

Last week, the government of Emir Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah said legal action would be taken against a fundraising campaign launched by clerics and political activists, the Kuwait Times reported.

The campaign, launched by the Syrian Support Campaigns Union under the slogan “Syria Calls,” was not approved by the government and violated laws on collecting donations, said Munira al-Fadhi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.

Additionally, Fadhi said, “our department does not authorize or license individuals to collect donations.”

In Washington, a Treasury spokeswoman said: “Regardless of who is in leadership positions, it is important that Kuwait take strong action to combat terrorist financing, and we will continue to work with the Kuwaiti government in that regard.”

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.
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