New Kuwaiti Justice Minister Has Deep Extremist Ties

A prominent Salafist with a history of sectarianism, anti-Semitism, and links to terror finance grabs a key cabinet role.

Officials from over sixty countries gathered in Kuwait City yesterday for a United Nations donor conference, raising $1.4 billion in new humanitarian assistance for Syria. Yet Kuwait was arguably the wrong venue for this event, since the country seems to be backsliding on its commitments to fight terrorism finance and the exportation of violent extremism from its territory.

Indeed, as Kuwait seeks to position itself as a benefactor of the Syrian people, its willful negligence on these issues is starting to make the tiny Gulf emirate look responsible for some of Syria’s problems in the first place.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen has said that Kuwait “unfortunately continues to be a permissive environment for terrorist fundraising”. Reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post describes Kuwait as “a virtual Western Union” and “the Arab world’s main clearinghouse” for donations to fundamentalist Syrian rebels.

And in the latest sign of problems on this front, by royal decree Kuwait just appointed a religious hardliner to head two important ministries whose name should be setting off alarm bells abroad. The individual in question, a Salafist former MP named Nayef al-Ajmi, was sworn in by the Amir as Kuwait’s justice minister and minister of Islamic affairs and endowments on Tuesday, January 7.

Dr. Al-Ajmi is a polished young preacher who had been serving as an assistant dean at Kuwait University’s College of Sharia and Islamic Studies, and he has sat on the Sharia supervisory boards of numerous investment corporations based in the country. However, Al-Ajmi’s case also sits at the nexus of perhaps the worst irritant in Kuwait’s foreign relations: its exportation of violent religious extremism.

The problem is a longstanding one. A 2009 memo signed by Hillary Clinton described Kuwait as a “source of funds and a key transit point” for Al Qaeda but that the government in Kuwait City was “less inclined to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators” provided their plotting was focused abroad. The Kuwaiti government has refused to take action against a Kuwait-based relief organization called the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society since it was blacklisted by the UN over a decade ago for giving material support to Al Qaeda.