In the great jihadi funding bazaar that is the Gulf state of Kuwait, there’s a terror finance option for every pocket, from the private foundations dealing in tens of millions to the more retail end of the market. Give enough for 50 sniper bullets (50 dinars, about £110), promises the al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked cleric tweeting under the name “jahd bmalk”, and you will earn “silver status”. Donate 100 dinars to buy eight badly needed mortar rounds, and he’ll make you a “gold status donor”.
As the jihadi funders hand out loyalty cards, the West has belatedly realised that some of its supposed friends in the Gulf have been playing the disloyalty card. Had Kuwait not been freed by American, British and allied troops in 1991, it would presumably now still be the “19th province” of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But the emirate has repaid the Western blood and treasure spent in its liberation by becoming, in the words of David Cohen, the US undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, the “epicentre of funding for terrorist groups in Syria”.
Islamic State (Isil), with its newly conquered territory, oilfields and bank vaults, no longer needs much foreign money. But its extraordinarily swift rise to this point, a place where it threatens the entire region and the West, was substantially paid for by the allies of the West. Isil’s cash was raised in, or channelled through, Kuwait and Qatar, with the tacit approval and sometimes active support of their governments.
Though this has not yet been widely understood in Europe, it is no secret. Throughout 2013 and the earlier part of this year, on TV stations, websites and social media in Kuwait and Qatar, the jihadis openly solicited money for weapons and troops, much as charities in Britain might seek donations for tents and food. One of the main Oxfams of jihad is a group called the Kuwait Scholars’ Union (KSU), which ran a number of major fundraising drives, including the “Great Kuwait Campaign”, raising several million dollars for anti-aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and fighters. Some of the money went to Isil and some to the al-Qaeda front Jabhat al-Nusra, Isil’s ally until this February.
“By Allah’s grace and his success, the Great Kuwait Campaign announces the preparation of 8,700 Syrian mujahideen,” announced the KSU’s president, Nabil al-Awadi, in June 2013. “The campaign is ongoing until 12,000 are prepared.” The same year, the KSU ran the “Liberate the Coast” fundraising campaign to help pay for a sectarian massacre of hundreds of civilians in the Syrian port of Latakia. One of the KSU’s fundraisers, Shafi al-Ajmi, tweeted that the donations would go “to buy what is needed to expel the Safavids”, an insulting term for Shia. Last month, he was designated a funder of terrorism by the US.
The Kuwaiti government’s response to the KSU and other terror funders has been “permissive,” as Mr Cohen puts it. That is very diplomatic language. In fact, as recently as January, Kuwait appointed as its minister of justice one Nayef al-Ajmi, a man who has actually appeared on fundraising posters for the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front.
Qatar, too, has a serious problem. Its government denied a statement last month by the German development minister, Gerd Mueller, that it bankrolls Isil directly. But Mr Cohen says that “press reports indicate that the Qatari government is supporting extremist groups operating in Syria”. There is no doubt, too, that key institutions and officials of the Qatari government have hosted and supported individuals who back Isil, including Harith al-Dari, a designated terrorist and leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) in Iraq.
This June, as Isil took over Mosul, the AMS praised the “great victories achieved by the revolutionaries”. As they put it: “You have already seen how a great many of the media outlets have colluded, from the first instance of the start of your revolution, and worked on the demonisation of the revolution and distorting its image.” Only a month after Washington designated al-Dari as a sponsor of the group that became Isil, he was allowed to meet the Emir of Qatar. He has made numerous visits there since; the US designation of al-Dari as a terrorist mentions Qatar as an alternative location for him.
At least two other men designated as al-Qaeda funders, Hajjaj al-Ajmi and Hamid al-Ali, have been officially invited by Qatar’s Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs to deliver sermons from government-controlled mosques calling for jihad in Syria, and donations to it. As Isil swept through Iraq this summer, Ali praised the “great cleaning of Iraq” and the “revolution of our ummah [the Muslim people] against the hateful occupier enemy”.
Only in July, both the KSU’s Nabil al-Awadi and a man now banned from Britain as an Isil recruiter, Mohammed al-Arifi, were invited to address a Ramadan festival in Qatar co-organised by the Aspire Zone Foundation, the government-controlled body that played a major part in Qatar’s successful bid for the World Cup.
Qatar and Kuwait, Sunni-majority states, have been helping, or at least not hindering, Isil because they saw it as a proxy counterweight to their Shia rival, Iran, and the Iranian-backed Assad regime. But like many governments before them, including America in Afghanistan, they have now discovered that the would-be puppets tend to cut loose from the puppetmasters. “Some leaders believed they could use terrorists as hired mercenaries, but suddenly found themselves stuck with terrorists who used the opportunity to advance their own interests and agenda,” in the bitter words of Ahmed Jarba, head of the moderate Syrian rebels.
Alarmed by the savagery of Isil, and the growing hostility of the US, Kuwait, in particular, has started to crack down, sacking its jihadi justice minister and removing citizenship from a number of terror funders, including Nabil al-Awadi. But it is plainly too late. Armed with the loot of half the Iraqi military, Isil doesn’t need its Gulf patrons to buy it sniper rounds any more.
And even before Isil started threatening the West, this was already more than a Kuwaiti or Qatari problem. As The Telegraph reported last weekend, Nabil al-Awadi is, or has been, partly resident in the UK. Until last year, he was director of the al-Birr private school in Birmingham and is described as a UK resident on his Companies House entry, with a past address in Brixton Hill, south London. He has close links with the hardline al-Muntada mosque in Parson’s Green, west London, whose imam and director are co-directors of the al-Birr school.
After The Telegraph report, al-Awadi indignantly protested that he had “not travelled to Britain since 2011,” a denial rather undermined by his own tweets which repeatedly describe visits to Britain subsequent to that date. Several of the visits were to al-Muntada, which also raises funds for Syria – exclusively for “humanitarian purposes”, it insists.
Al-Muntada has close links to British mosques accused of radicalising young people into Isil, including al-Manar in Cardiff, attended by Nasser Muthana and Reyaad Khan, the first Britons to appear in an Isil propaganda video. Both mosques have also organised events with Mohammed al-Arifi, the now-banned extremist cleric accused of grooming the two young Cardiff men.
Al-Muntada’s former imam, Haitham al-Haddad, is one of the most active radical preachers in the country, reportedly a principal target of the Government’s new “anti-extremism orders” aimed at those not directly involved in violence but who voice extremist views. Al-Muntada, too, has been closely supported by Qatari money; the UK branch held its annual meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha, on March 31, 2013, and its school has been bankrolled by Qatari finance.
Before we get too censorious about foreign politicians who back extremists, it is worth mentioning, too, that al-Muntada has picked up quite a few British political endorsements. Andy Slaughter, its local Labour MP, praised its “outstanding track record of supporting others” and said he was “very proud to be associated with it”. Stephen Timms, deputy chairman of Labour’s interfaith group, said: “I know how much effort al-Muntada puts into its community relations.”
Richard Barnes, Boris Johnson’s then deputy mayor, praised it as “one of the world’s foremost Muslim charities”. And al-Muntada was sent good wishes, too, by a spokesman acting on behalf of none other than the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
As Qatar and Kuwait buy up more and more of Britain, maybe it is time to start asking a few more questions about what they really stand for.
Andrew Gilligan is London editor for the Sunday Telegraph. He writes, among other things, about London, Westminster and politics.