Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 February 2020

Trial continues in Kuwait for alleged Hizbollah-linked cell

The defendants are accused of communicating with the Lebanese movement and Iran with the aim of carrying out “hostile” acts in Kuwait, according to the country's official news agency.
The trial signals that Kuwaiti security forces have stepped up efforts since ISIL’s bombing of a Shiite mosque in June. Raed Qutena / EPA
The trial signals that Kuwaiti security forces have stepped up efforts since ISIL’s bombing of a Shiite mosque in June. Raed Qutena / EPA

KUWAIT CITY // A Kuwaiti court held the latest hearing on Tuesday in the trial of more than 20 people accused of links to Hizbollah and Iran.

The defendants, all Kuwaitis except for one Iranian, are accused of threatening Kuwait’s “unity and territorial integrity” and communicating with Hizbollah and Iran with the aim of carrying out “hostile” acts in the country and possessing illegal weapons, according to the official Kuwait News Agency.

While details remain murky, the trial signals that Kuwaiti security forces have stepped up efforts since ISIL’s bombing of a Shiite mosque in June, and amid increased Gulf Arab concerns about Iran.

In August, the country’s security forces, acting on information passed on by a foreign intelligence service, seized an arms cache hidden beneath three houses in Al Abdali, an area near the border with Iraq.

The weapons included rocket propelled grenades, more than 100kg of TNT, firearms, ammunition and detonators.

Local media reported that the weapons were smuggled into Kuwait from Iraq and were being stored by alleged members of a Hizbollah-linked cell.

Three men were initially arrested. There are now a total of 26 suspects on trial, three of whom have not been detained and are being tried in absentia. Twenty-two are also accused of receiving weapons training.

At least some of the detained reportedly confessed, though they later claimed before the court that they were forced to sign prepared confessions after torture. The trial’s first hearing was held on September 15.

One of the suspects claimed that he had received the weapons, which were found on his farm, from a member of Kuwait’s royal family to fight Iraqi forces during their 1990-1991 occupation of the country.

The men allegedly intended to use the weapons to carry out attacks in Kuwait and are also accused of spying for Iran and Hizbollah.

Iran has denied any links to the suspects.

The court earlier this month freed four of the defendants on bail, though they were given a travel ban and must appear at trial hearings.

Professor Shamlan Al Essa, a Kuwaiti political analyst, said that the country’s security forces began “tightening up” after the June attack on the Imam Al Sadeq mosque in Kuwait city by an ISIL suicide bomber.

Twenty-seven people were killed in the attack, the worst in Kuwait’s history, and more than 200 wounded.

The mosque bombing was considered a serious security failure. The bomber flew from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait, transiting in Bahrain, before meeting accomplices in Kuwait who aided in the attack. Security forces arrested 29 people who allegedly helped the bomber, a Saudi Arabia citizen named Fahd Suleiman Abdulmohsen Al Qaba’a.

In August, the discovery of the arms cache in Al Abdali was announced.

“No one denies that Hizbollah is very strong here,” said Mr Al Essa.

He said that Kuwait’s political system, considered the most open among Gulf Arab states, gave space to people that might sympathise with a range of different extremist groups.

“We have salafis, we have jihadis, we have all kinds of people,” he said.

“I don’t think any of these organisations, the salafis or the jihadis or Hizbollah have the power to trouble the government. But, you know jihadis, you can’t predict if one will blow himself up.”

Mr Al Essa said he doubted that the security forces detaining an alleged Hizbollah cell would make Shiites in Kuwait feel at risk. But, he added, there is pressure from some hardliners who want the accused to face the death penalty. In September, this sentence was given to seven of the 29 people charged with helping the ISIL suicide bomber, Al Qaba’a.

Also on Tuesday, Kuwait’s Al Anba newspaper reported that the country’s interior ministry had banned gatherings outside Shiite mosques during the month of Muharram as a security precaution.

jvela@thenational.ae

Updated: October 14, 2015 04:00 AM

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