Country Report on Terrorism 2015 - Chapter 2 - Kuwait

Overview: During 2015, the Government of Kuwait continued to build and augment its capacity for counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE). In June, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) conducted its first successful attack in Kuwait by bombing the Imam Sadeq Mosque (one of the country’s most prominent Shia mosques), killing 27 worshippers and injuring 227 others. Fifteen suspects of different nationalities received death and jail sentences in connection with the bombing. ISIL also sought to inspire sympathizers to support, finance, or engage in conflicts outside of Kuwait. In response, the Government of Kuwait increased its emphasis on international counterterrorism cooperation and on internal CVE efforts, maintaining a robust counterterrorism relationship with the United States. Kuwait took several measures to improve the oversight and regulation of charitable fundraising, including monitoring transfers to international beneficiaries and regulating online donations. Kuwait joined the Small Group of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, reflecting its contributions to several lines of effort of the counter-ISIL campaign.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: Despite efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist activities, June saw the most violent terrorist attack in recent memory when a Saudi ISIL suicide bomber attacked the Imam Sadeq Mosque during Friday prayers in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, killing 27 individuals (18 Kuwaitis, three Iranians, two Indians, one Saudi, one Pakistani and one stateless Arab [bidoon]), and wounding 227. In August, Kuwait authorities disrupted a terrorist cell composed of 26 Kuwaitis (all Shia), who had reportedly hidden a large amount of weapons, ammunition, and explosives at a farm near the al-Abdali border crossing with Iraq. The public prosecutor issued a media gag order on the ongoing investigation and trial following media speculation about links to Hizballah and Iran.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Kuwaiti government lacked a clear legal framework for prosecuting terrorism-related crimes, often having to resort to other legal statutes to try suspected terrorists, which hampered enforcement efforts. In February, the parliament passed a law that ordered citizens to surrender all unlicensed weapons and explosives by June 22, penalizing would-be violators with fines and jail sentences. In April, it passed a law that prescribed compulsory military service for all Kuwaiti males reaching 18 years of age. In June, it passed a law that regulated installment and operation of security cameras and other surveillance devices in public areas. In July, it passed a law mandating collection of DNA samples from all residents, in order to facilitate comparison to samples collected from terrorist attack scenes.

Following the June bombing of the Imam Sadeq Mosque, the parliament passed a law that prescribed stiff penalties for counterterrorism-related cybercrimes.

In September, a criminal court sentenced to death eight of the 29 suspects accused of plotting the Imam Sadeq Mosque attack. It sentenced seven others to jail sentences of varying length and acquitted the remaining suspects. Those indicted included Kuwaiti, Pakistani, and Saudi nationals, in addition to several bidoon. This case remained in the appeals process at the end of 2015. In November, local media announced the conviction of five residents of Kuwait on terrorism finance charges. Later that month, an additional six individuals were arrested on charges of providing financial and material support to ISIL. The court of appeals in December upheld the conviction and sentencing of two Kuwaiti citizens for joining and financially supporting ISIL.

Law enforcement units were able to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. Their effectiveness could be made greater by better interagency and inter-ministry information sharing. Kuwaiti command and control structures were often stove-piped. Kuwait’s primary counterterrorism organizations, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Kuwait National Guard (KNG), were well-resourced, receptive to suggestions, and actively engaged in training opportunities. Under the Joint Combined Educational Training program, the Embassy’s Office of Military Cooperation engaged with local counterterrorism units for both training and bilateral exercises in an effort to match capabilities with resources. Because the MOI also includes the country’s criminal investigative apparatus and border protection mission, it has broad latitude with respect to investigations and border security. The MOI is also generally considered the single point of contact for incident response, but some terrorist-related matters do fall under the prerogative of the Kuwait State Security Service, a semi-autonomous arm of the MOI.

The Government of Kuwait continued its programs to improve physical border security through the employment of biometric systems, aerial reconnaissance, and border sensors. The means by which ISIL carried out the Imam Sadeq Mosque attack – with the Saudi suicide bomber and his explosive device entering through the international airport and a land border crossing, respectively – highlighted deficiencies in aviation security and border control.

In March, the Government of Kuwait imposed travel bans on two foreign national residents previously designated by the United States for support of terrorism. The Kuwaiti government subsequently froze the individuals’ assets in accordance with UNSCR 1373, but had not taken action in 2015 against a third individual (a Kuwaiti national), who was listed on the UN sanctions lists as a financier of al-Nusrah Front.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kuwait is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. In recognition of the Kuwaiti government’s efforts to address previously-identified counterterrorism finance deficiencies, MENAFATF in February removed Kuwait from the International Cooperation Review Group process, recognizing the jurisdiction as one that had accomplished all of the targets on its Action Plan; it was also noted for having the means and will to continue to sustain the reforms. A ministerial-level counterterrorism committee – consisting of 16 governmental bodies and chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – met regularly to execute Kuwait’s AML/CFT obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) and domestic regulations. However, entities and individuals within Kuwait continue to remain a funding source for terrorist and extremist groups.

In June, the parliament passed a cybercrime law that criminalized online fundraising for terrorist purposes. The law closed a counterterrorism finance loophole that allowed online extremist fundraising and facilitation.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL) took several steps to regulate and monitor charitable fund-raising, and – in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – assure the legitimacy of foreign beneficiaries. In 2015, MOSAL detected 80 violations of illegal fundraising, leading to the dissolution of two licensed and a number of unlicensed charities.

New regulations required individuals and organizations to register and apply for permits. MOSAL curtailed fundraising via social media, with staff assigned to search for illegal online solicitations. In cooperation with the MOI, MOSAL took action against illegal fundraising by individuals, by unregistered groups, and in mosques during Ramadan.

For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Countering Violent Extremism: The Government of Kuwait has a number of local counter-messaging campaigns – often focused on religion – that it supports, reportedly on radio, television, and billboards. Media reported that the Minister of Interior issued a November Executive Order transferring the Center for Counseling and Rehabilitation from its current location within Kuwait City’s Central Prison to a new facility with an expanded faculty and a broadened mandate, in order to emulate the scope of the Muhammad bin Naif’s Center for Counselling and Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia.

International and Regional Cooperation: Kuwait cooperated regionally and internationally on counterterrorism issues, including in the Global Counterterrorism Forum. Kuwait is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Kuwaiti officials issued statements encouraging enhanced cooperation among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab League states on counterterrorism issues, and the Kuwaiti government hosted international meetings on subjects ranging from countering extremist ideology to combating terrorism financing. Kuwait participated in the August U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working Group meeting in Riyadh.

In addition to bilateral cooperation with the United States, Kuwaiti security officials also worked with other international counterparts to conduct missions and exchange information.

Kuwait was the sole GCC member state that did not ratify the Gulf Security Pact, which would enhance regional counterterrorism cooperation potential.