Kuwait's Embattled Justice Minister Part of Deeper Terror Finance Problem

An alleged fundraiser for jihadists may be losing his post at the head of Kuwait's Justice Ministry, but the broader problem is far from solved.

A contentious battle over Kuwait’s reported role in terrorism finance is currently playing out in public. Earlier this year, the Kuwaiti Amir appointed a highly questionable figure to run his country’s Ministries of Justice and Islamic Affairs. Dr. Nayef al-Ajmi came under particular fire for anti-Semitic hate speech on television and for a misogynistic job posting indicating that women need not apply for a legal researcher position in his Justice Ministry.

But the controversy that appears to be pushing al-Ajmi from office was documented here at TNI in January. Al-Ajmi’s image or affiliation was apparently used by at least three different fundraising networks for posters, websites or social media in collecting money for radical Syrian opposition fighters. News reports even suggested that one of these networks might have been fundraising for Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate the Nusra Front.

The episode became particularly acute after the U.S. Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, gave a speech on March 4 calling Nayef al-Ajmi’s appointment “a step in the wrong direction.” Cohen said that al-Ajmi “has a history of promoting jihad in Syria” and that “his image has been featured on fundraising posters for a prominent al-Nusra Front financier.”

These allegations by a senior U.S. official set Kuwait’s political scene into turmoil. Supporters of al-Ajmi launched a counteroffensive, accusing the United States of “unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Kuwait.” On Monday of last week, Kuwait’s cabinet expressed its “resentment” at such harsh allegations against one of its members. Soon after, a former Kuwaiti MP complained to the press that “a Jew will put together the Kuwaiti government, and his name is David Cohen.” Images have been circulating among some Kuwaitis on social media that emphasize al-Ajmi’s legitimate humanitarian work and lash out at America for memorable abuses such as Abu Ghraib.

Al-Ajmi also went on Kuwaiti television last week to publicly rebut the allegations against him in a special half hour interview. The embattled minister claimed that he withdrew his support for fundraising groups using his image that had shifted from purely humanitarian efforts to also arming Syrian rebels as soon as this shift came to his attention. He pointed to Twitter remarks he posted in September indicating that he would restrict his Syria fundraising support to a group called the Council of Supporters for the Syrian Revolution.

But al-Ajmi was on shaky ground. For one, a fundraising network run by another Kuwaiti cleric had been using Nayef al-Ajmi’s image for campaigns explicitly aimed at the Syrian battlefield for over three months before this Twitter announcement. That preacher continued to repost old fundraising fliers featuring al-Ajmi’s image after September without evident penalties for it.