Kuwaiti minister accused by U.S. over terrorism funding quits

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait’s Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister has resigned, state news agency KUNA said on Monday, after a senior U.S. official said he had called for jihad in Syria and promoted the funding of terrorism.

Last month Nayef al-Ajmi rejected the comments made in March by U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen as “groundless and baseless”, and was backed by the cabinet.

On Monday, the cabinet said the Gulf state’s ruling emir had accepted Ajmi’s resignation. No reason was given for the move and it was not immediately possible to reach Ajmi for comment. Kuwaiti media reported last month that he had offered to resign before, citing his health.

“The cabinet expresses its sincere appreciation for the efforts of the minister and thanks him for his ministerial work and good achievements,” KUNA said in an SMS alert.

Earlier on Monday news service al-Rai quoted him as thanking the emir for accepting his resignation.

Kuwait has been one of the biggest humanitarian donors to Syrian refugees through the United Nations, but it has also struggled to control unofficial fundraising for opposition groups in Syria by private individuals.

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Cohen said Ajmi had “a history of promoting jihad in Syria” and that his image had featured on fundraising posters for the Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group linked to al Qaeda.

Unlike some other Gulf states, U.S. ally Kuwait is against arming rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But it has tolerated fundraising in private houses, mosques and on social media.

Some Kuwaiti and U.S. officials fear campaigns that give militant Islamist groups funds to buy arms will fuel violence in Syria and stir sectarian tension in Kuwait.

Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Hamad al-Sabah was appointed acting Islamic Affairs Minister and Cabinet Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak al-Sabah will take on the additional role of acting Justice Minister, KUNA said.

Sheikh Mohammad said last year the Syrian crisis was touching a “very raw sectarian nerve” in the Gulf Arab region.

In a sign that Kuwait is reacting to concerns about the fundraising issue, a Kuwaiti official said a campaign backed by local clerics and politicians was illegal.

Munira al-Fadhli, an assistant undersecretary in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, was quoted by Monday’s English language daily Kuwait Times as saying: “Our department does not authorize or license individuals to collect donations. Licenses are only given to official charities”.

Fadhli said the “Syria Calls” campaign violated the law and legal action would be taken against its organizers.

“Syria Calls” describes itself as a “Union of Kuwaiti campaigns to support Syria” and is backed by well-known local clerics and opposition politicians. An online poster for the group does not make clear exactly what the money is for.

Editing by Kevin Liffey and Janet Lawrence