DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Kuwaiti police briefly detained and questioned two men designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as financiers of terror groups operating in Iraq and Syria, a lawyer and a security official said Thursday, amid mounting pressure from Washington on its Gulf ally to curb the flow of such funds.
U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen has described Kuwait as the "epicenter" of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria and earlier this month called on the Kuwaiti government to do more to disrupt such financing.
Kuwait's ambassador to Washington says his country is committed to fighting terrorism.
A Kuwaiti police officer told The Associated Press that Shafi al-Ajmi was detained Sunday — for about seven hours — and Hajaj al-Ajmi was detained late Wednesday — for about 10 hours — after returning from trips to neighboring Gulf countries. He said the two were detained as a precautionary measure and questioned about the U.S. Treasury Department's accusations. He said they may be banned from traveling.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Their lawyer Mohammed al-Jumia told the AP his clients only raised charitable donations for Syrians. He said that when his clients traveled to Syria they met with members of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, the mainstream rebel group fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
The U.S. Treasury's designation freezes any assets they might have in U.S. jurisdiction and bans U.S. citizens from doing business with them, but it does not affect any assets or bank accounts in Kuwait. Kuwaiti law criminalizes supporting terrorist groups, but the government has not yet charged the two with anything.
"The question is did they really finance these groups like the U.S. says? We say no. They have not provided a single shred of evidence to the Kuwait government," al-Jumia said.
The Treasury Department alleges that Shafi publicly admitted to collecting money under the auspices of charity and delivering the funds in person to Nusra Front, which is al-Qaida's branch in Syria. The U.S. Treasury alleges that Hajaj agreed to provide financial support to Nusra Front in exchange for installing Kuwaitis in the group's leadership positions.