December 22, 2002
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Attacks on American forces in Kuwait are being covered up and played down because of concerns that further disclosures will destabilise military preparations for war against Iraq.
Incidents have either gone unreported or have been passed off as harmless recreational shooting by hunters, a senior Kuwaiti government official told The Telegraph.
“The Americans have told us to downplay these incidents for fear of creating the sort of climate in which further attacks can happen,” the official said.
One United States marine has been killed and five seriously injured in terrorist attacks over the past two months. Although no further injuries have been reported, there have been a number of “close shaves” as America’s military presence continues to provoke hostility among some Kuwaitis.
The country’s leadership and most of its population remain resolutely pro-American and grateful for the US role in liberating them from Iraqi occupation in 1991. Islamic militancy has taken root, however, and there is growing anti-American sentiment and support for groups such as al-Qa’eda among some young men.
The American request to play down the terrorist threat comes at a sensitive time in its preparations for war. US troop numbers have recently risen from 10,000 to 15,000 and several new camps have been built in readiness for the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.
A US military official said: “These attacks and the threat of further attacks are making a difficult environment to operate in. But we are working with the Kuwaitis to keep everything under control.”
As part of a widespread government clampdown on extremists, there have been more than 70 arrests in recent weeks, in addition to several “sedition” trials in which Kuwaitis have been accused of advocating attacks against American interests.
The American embassy recently advised its citizens not to visit shopping precincts for fear of creating a “target” for extremists.
“The majority of Kuwaitis fully back what the Americans are doing. All this trouble is being caused by a very small, extremist fringe,” said a Western diplomat.
Most Kuwaitis have been shocked by the violence in the country. However, according to an official at Kuwait’s ministry of the interior, further incidents were “just waiting to happen.” He added: “The real problem is that we have a lot of wealthy, disaffected young men who are looking for some excitement and are easily influenced.”
Kuwait already has a record of providing al-Qa’eda with high-ranking members. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti national who used to teach children religious affairs, went on to become its spokesman in Afghanistan.
Last month Kuwaiti authorities also announced the arrest of Mohsen al-Fadhli, 22, a “senior” al-Qa’eda commander, who confessed to trying to raise funds for a terrorist atrocity in Yemen.