x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Gang linked to al Qa'eda held over terror plot

Six Kuwaiti members of an al Qa'eda-linked group who were arrested in Kuwait planned to attack Shuaiba oil refinery, a security official says.

KUWAIT CITY // Six Kuwaiti members of an al Qa'eda-linked group who were arrested in Kuwait planned to attack Shuaiba oil refinery, a security official said yesterday. The group was also planning to bomb Camp Arifjan, the largest US military base in the country, and the state security service headquarters, a statement by the ministry of interior said.

The Shuaiba plant, which produces 200,000 barrels per day, is the smallest of the three refineries in the world's fourth largest oil exporting country. Kuwait's three domestic refineries have a total crude processing capacity of 930,000 barrels per day. The attacks were planned to take place in the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims break their fast after sunset, the local newspaper Al Anbaa reported yesterday, citing unidentified sources that are familiar with the investigation. Ramadan is expected to begin around August 21 this year.

The group, which was led by a surgeon at one of Kuwait's state hospitals, confessed to planning the attacks to put pressure on the US military to leave Kuwait, the newspaper said. The plotters had made martyrdom videos to claim responsibility for the attacks, the Washington Times reported yesterday, citing US security officials. US and Kuwaiti security services, which had independently discovered different elements of the operation, had discussed the attack at a meeting in July, the newspaper said.

The suspects have been brought to the attorney general's office to face charges, the ministry of information's statement said. Two of the defendants confessed to the public prosecution that they promoted the al Qa'eda school of thought, local newspaper Al Watan reported yesterday. The militants also said they had bought materials from cleaning factories to manufacture the explosives, which they had learnt to make from the internet, and that they had arranged for a lorry to carry the bomb and ram the camp's gate, the newspaper said.

US officials have praised Kuwait's security forces and co-operation between the two countries. "It is a testament to the outstanding partnership that we and the Kuwaitis have built over the years, particularly between the Kuwaiti security forces and the US armed forces that reside in Kuwait," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, at a media briefing on Tuesday. Mr Morrell did not confirm the target, saying, "I don't think at this point that Camp Arifjan was necessarily where they were plotting their attack, but clearly US forces were among those they wanted to hit, based upon our initial assessment."

"Our sense is they were probably inspired" by al Qa'eda, he said. "But I'm not so sure that we have a definitive link at this point". The ministry of interior has drawn up a "comprehensive strategic plan to counter any emergency to ensure the safety of the country and the citizens", Lt Col Walid Ghanem, the deputy director of the police media department, said in a statement from the ministry of interior.

Salwa al Jassar, a member of the Kuwaiti parliament, said: "We feel really sad. People who believe in attacking some important areas have no sense. If they, Kuwaiti people, are looking to attack the Kuwaiti government, this is a disaster for me. "I think this is part of the global security situation, it's not just Kuwait. This is happening everywhere in the world," she said. "We have to work to clarify why we have reached this stage, why we have a young generation of men who believe in this kind of behaviour."

"We have American bases here in Kuwait, but there are American bases everywhere in the world ? Some Kuwaiti people ask why we have to keep these American bases in Kuwait", but they are very rare. The suspects have been brought to the attorney general's office to face charges, the statement from the ministry of information said. Camp Arifjan in the south of Kuwait provides permanent support facilities for US troops in neighbouring Iraq. About 15,000 US soldiers are stationed in Kuwait.

The last major terrorist incident in Kuwait happened four years ago, when security forces fought a gun battle with militants linked to al Qa'eda in January and clashed again a few days later at a rebel hideout. In 2007, four members of a group called the Peninsula Lions, who were involved in the incident, received the death sentence, but they were later commuted. jcalderwood@thenational.ae