According to the Kuwait Times, twelve Kuwaiti citizens were charged with financially supporting ISIS on Sunday. Allegedly, a 19 year old national was apprehended at the Kuwaiti International Airport attempting to flee the country for Turkey in an effort to join ISIS in Iraq. After extensive questioning, the suspect gave the names of five additional Kuwaiti nationals in Iraq and Syria and seven nationals inside Kuwait who were involved in financing the terror group. None of those convicted will actually serve jail time (potentially because ISIS is not officially designated as a terrorist group). The seven nationals charged inside Kuwait are sentenced to two years of monitoring by local authorities, along with an admonition to “be good.” The five nationals in Iraq and Syria were charged, in absentia, with ten years in prison. If history tells us anything, it that their prodigal return to Kuwait would end in reduced if not suspended sentences. In the past seven months, four such terrorism funding and support trials have been held in Kuwaiti courts. All of those charged with financing or supporting terrorism have, on appeal, ended up either being acquitted or else they serve significantly reduced sentences. These symbolic hearings in Kuwait allow the government to appear as if they are actually cracking down on the terror finance and support of Kuwaiti citizens. But the continual lack of accountability is conspicuous. Kuwaitis need to stop playing at justice.
On June 26, 2015 a Saudi suicide bomber ignited his vest inside Shiite-frequented Imam Sadiq Mosque killing 26 people and injuring 200 others. In September, two men were sentenced to death for their involvement with financing the operation: Saudi national Abdulrahman Sabah Saud, who drove the bomber to the mosque, and the bidoon ISIS-in-Kuwait leader, Fahd Farraj Muhareb. After a court of appeals hearing on December 14, 2015, only one death sentence was upheld (and it wasn’t the ISIS leader in Kuwait). Fahad Farraj Muhareb was, on appeal, charged with only 15 years in prison. Muhareb’s daughter, initially charged with jail time, was acquitted on appeal.
On July 30, 2015 a five-member ISIS-suspected cell was arrested in Kuwait. Four were accused of carrying out hostile activities against a foreign country (fighting against the Iraqi army), which would put Kuwaiti diplomatic relations at stake. One of the suspects was accused of funding ISIS. A fifth suspect was accused of being affiliated with Al-Nusra, of carrying out hostile activities against a foreign country, and of endangering Kuwaiti diplomatic relations. On November 2nd, all five people were sentenced to ten years in prison for financing ISIS to the tune of $1.3 Million. On January 7, 2016 all five citizens were acquitted of participating in the fight alongside ISIS. In addition, they were acquitted of funding ISIS and Al Nusra.
On December 13, 2015 a Kuwaiti citizen with suspected ISIS membership was sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor and a fine of $30K. The suspect was convicted of travelling to Syria, taking part in illegal activities, and transferring $30K to ISIS. In a radical reversal of precedent, this ruling overturned the earlier verdict of a lower court that acquitted the Kuwaiti but charged him a fine and asked him to sign a pledge to “be good.” The accused got greedy, wanting to be fully acquitted of all charges, which eventually led to a retrial and jail time for “committing a hostile act toward Syria and Iraq.” According to The Arab Times Online, the new sentence is “a confirmation that the State of Kuwait, like other countries, considers DAESH [ISIS] a terrorist organization and a banned group.” But to be honest, this sentence seems less a pledge of Kuwait’s commitment to the fight against ISIS than a deterrent against challenging the already-lax rulings of the Kuwaiti court.
Yesterday we were told that two people were sentenced to death (an Iranian, in absentia, and a Kuwaiti national) and 26 sentenced to life in prison for being involved in a militant group with "furtive contacts" in Iran and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Other news reports say they were accused of spying for Hezbollah, smuggling weapons, and possessing firearms. All of the defendants deny the charges against them, and we’re pretty confident that, on appeal, the death sentence for the Kuwaiti citizen will be reduced to time in prison. Following the already established pattern in Kuwaiti courts, about half of those “life in prison” sentences will be acquitted.
Kuwaiti trials involving terror support or finance are analogous to Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Explaining the ancient Greek myth, Camus writes, “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back on its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” Indeed, the Kuwaiti government’s mythical war on terror finance seems akin to that of Sisyphus and his rock. Each time Kuwaiti citizens are suspected of financing ISIS or Al-Nusra, they are quickly apprehended. A trial is held, and the ball starts being pushed up the hill where harsh punishments are handed out: long jail times are issued along with promises of deportations and, in some cases, death sentences are even decreed. But in each case, appeals always end in either acquittal or severely reduced sentences, and the ball rolls quickly back down the hill. When you think of all of the wasted energy that goes into such fruitless attempts to catch terror financiers you almost begin to feel sorry for Kuwait. But in this scenario the West becomes the silly logical “gods,” thinking they encourage punishment against Kuwaiti financiers of ISIS and Al Nusra, and that the Kuwaiti government readily complies. These efforts to push a rock up a hill exist to create the illusion that Kuwait is invested in trying to fight terror finance in their own country. When, in reality, the appearance of fighting terror finance is more beneficial to Kuwait than the reality of punishing their citizens could ever be. This lack of conviction in the crack-down on terror finance is not limited to Kuwait; rather, it constitutes a Sisyphean trend of Western appeasement through mock-investigation that continues throughout the Arabian Gulf. A starting point towards any meaningful trial involving terror finance would have to begin with Kuwait's official acknowledgment of ISIS as a terrorist group. Until that happens, all efforts to hold trial will be absurd.