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Kuwait briefly detains cleric US accuses of militant financing

THE LEVANT – Kuwait briefly detained a prominent preacher less than two weeks after the United States included him on a sanctions list on suspicion he was funnelling money to militants in Iraq and Syria, his lawyer said on Monday.

Shafi al-Ajmi, who was detained on Sunday on the border with Saudi Arabia while returning home from a pilgrimage, was released after four hours of questioning, his lawyer said.

“He was released without any charges,” the lawyer, Mohammed al-Jumia, told Reuters. “He is now at home.”

Jumia said he planned to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury to lift his client’s name from its blacklist, but gave no further details.

An Interior Ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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.

The government of the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state has stepped up its monitoring of individuals and charities suspected of collecting donations for militants linked to al Qaeda in Syria and in Iraq.

On Aug. 6, the United States imposed sanctions on Shafi and two other men suspected of funnelling money from Kuwait to ISIL. Washington also said the men had had helped smuggle fighters to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last year, Kuwait banned a television show that Shafi appeared on, saying it incited hatred.

As well as calling for armed opposition to Assad, Shafi has called on supporters to kill fighters in Syria linked to the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, evidence of how the Syria conflict has aggravated Sunni-Shi’ite tensions across the Middle East.

Kuwaiti Information Minister Sheikh Salman al-Humoud al-Sabah said at the time that authorities would investigate how a show featuring the cleric was allowed to be broadcast on state television.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on six people suspected of financing militants, including two Kuwaitis, in a move aimed at weakening ISIL and Nusra Front.

One of the sanctioned Kuwaitis was identified as Hajjaj al-Ajmi, another prominent cleric who belongs to the same extended tribe as Shafi al-Ajmi’s.

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