Manama: A Kuwaiti lawmaker has challenged the minister of justice to either refute allegations made by a US official that he was involved in funding terrorism or resign.

“The undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen has recently said that the appointment of Nayef Al Ajmi to be both Minister of Justice and Minister of Islamic Endowments and Islamic Affairs was a step in the wrong direction,” MP Nabeel Al Fadhl said. “Cohen added that the minister has a history of promoting terrorism. We expect the minister to either hand in his resignation immediately or reject the accusations and sue the US official. Lapsing into silence will only fuel speculation and doubt,” the lawmaker said.

In his March 4 remarks before the Centre for a New American Security on Confronting New Threats in Terrorist Financing, Cohen said that although “much of the private fundraising in the Gulf related to Syria is motivated by a sincere and admirable desire to ease suffering, and the funds are used for legitimate humanitarian purposes, a number of fundraisers operating particularly in Kuwait and Qatar are soliciting donations to fund extremist insurgents, not to meet legitimate humanitarian needs. The recipients of these funds are often terrorist groups, including Al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, Al Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), the group formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).”

For the US official, the influx of funds to these groups in Syria poses a serious challenge.

“Apart from their highly destabilising role in the ongoing conflict there, these well-funded and well-equipped groups may soon turn their attention to attacks outside of Syria, particularly as scores of newly radicalised and freshly trained foreign recruits return from Syria to their home countries,” he said.

He added that the US, in order to confront the challenge, was closely tracking the movement of funds to Syria, especially funds coming out of the Gulf.

“We have already targeted and applied sanctions against several key fundraisers, extremist leaders, and terrorist organistions. We are also actively supporting our partners throughout the region in their efforts to stem the tide of funding to extremists operating in Syria,” Cohen said.

However, he added that “Kuwait has become the epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria.”

“A number of Kuwaiti fundraisers exploit the charitable impulses of unwitting donors by soliciting humanitarian donations from both inside and outside the country, cloaking their efforts in humanitarian garb, but diverting those funds to extremist groups in Syria. Donors who already harbour sympathies for Syrian extremists have found in Kuwait fundraisers who openly advertise their ability to move funds to fighters in Syria. While we congratulate the Kuwaiti Government on steps it has taken recently to enhance its capacity to combat illicit finance, such as enacting a new law outlawing terrorist financing, we urge the Kuwaitis to do more to effectively stem the flow of money to terrorists,” he said.

The US official added that following Al Ajmi’s appointment as minister, “the Ministry of Endowments announced it would allow non-profit organisations and charities to collect donations for the Syrian people at Kuwaiti mosques, a measure we believe can be easily exploited by Kuwait-based terrorist fundraisers.”

In his lecture, Cohen warned that fundraisers in Qatar have aggressively solicited donations online from supporters in other countries.

“Private fundraising networks in Qatar increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations for terrorists and to communicate with both donors and recipient radicals on the battlefield. This method has become so lucrative, and Qatar has become such a permissive terrorist financing environment, that several major Qatar-based fundraisers act as local representatives for larger terrorist fundraising networks that are based in Kuwait,” he said.