Oil-rich Kuwait south of Iraq and east of Saudi Arabia is no longer used merely as al Qaeda terrorists’ back door from Iraq to Saudi Arabia; it has become a target in its own right.
A gun battle fought Saturday, January 15, between a band of terrorists and Kuwaiti police at Umm al-Haiman, a sparsely populated residential suburb of Kuwait City, left one Saudi – Hamada al-Enezi – and two policemen dead. The shootout brought to light three new developments regarding the oil-rich state and the global war against terrorism:
1. Al Qaeda and Iraqi terrorists are now turning their guns and bombs on Kuwait’s royal family and oil installations.
2. Large numbers of al Qaeda fighters are pouring into Kuwait from Iraq and eastern Saudi Arabia.
3. Interrogations of captured terrorists – and evidence from documents, weapons caches and recently intercepted messages – show the gunmen entering Kuwait are not just on the run from assault and pursuit in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but since 2004 have been making their way into the country with deliberate intent, to put together a large-scale quasi-military infrastructure with clearly defined targets.
Conscious of the peril, Kuwait’s security forces have been on top alert for weeks, reinforcing security at oil fields and terminals, refineries and ports. So far, they have picked up 40 suspects, including 15 Saudi nationals, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources. Most infiltrated Kuwait from Iraq; a handful from eastern Saudi oil regions. At least eight are Yemeni members of al Qaeda.
The Saudis and Yemenis admitted under questioning that they had come from Iraq’s Sunni hotbeds of Fallujah and Ramadi. In their pockets they had ready phone numbers and names of Kuwaiti contacts, the locations of hidden weapons for use in attacks, escape routes and a list of safe houses for them to await mission orders.
Kuwait security forces tracking down arms caches were impressed by their sophisticated camouflage devices: some 350 fragmentation grenades and the same number of stun grenades were stored inside a fence surrounding a public playground. Gas, water and electricity boxes had been built near main city squares to house arsenals of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-held anti-tank missiles and large quantities of explosives.
Someone, it transpired, had hired professional contractors to construct the realistic though fake utility boxes. This massive project must have been carried out over several weeks under the noses of the US or Kuwaiti intelligence and security services.
Exceptionally ferocious when cornered
The captured terrorists revealed their primary missions as being to attack oil installations and assassinate members of the royal family and government leaders. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts note this is the first direct evidence ever obtained of terrorist networks under explicit orders to liquidate an Arab ruling family of the Gulf or Arabian Peninsula.
Kuwaiti authorities are alarmed by the extreme ferocity exhibited by these terrorists when placed under arrest. Detentions and raids touch off lengthy gun battles in which cornered terrorists hurl grenade after grenade. Never has a gunman surrendered without a fight. Our intelligence and counter-terror experts believe that, in addition to the Umm al-Haiman shootout, Kuwaiti security forces have fought terrorists in at least five battles in the past two weeks. Because they were unreported, no information has been released on casualties.
Determined to root out the entire network, Kuwait authorities are deep in one of the most comprehensive counter-terror crackdowns and probes in their history. They studied and analyzed every one of the 4,000 sermons delivered at Friday prayers in the emirate in the last quarter of 2004. Only 13 were found dangerous, inflammatory or possible covers for hidden messages addressed to members of the terrorist network. The Kuwaitis regard this discovery as partial proof that the network’s command center is outside the country, in Iraq.
At the same time, the Kuwaiti royal family called on all members of parliament to reaffirm their pledges of loyalty to the emir and stand up in the legislature to denounce terrorism. Lawmakers of the Islamic League for Justice and Peace have not openly defied the rulers but are dragging their feet. The fact that no Islamic legislator has so far raised his voice in public to condemn terrorists killed or captured in Kuwait is a source of unease in the emirate.
Kuwait is reluctant to comply with a secret Saudi request to hand over detained Saudi nationals after seeing how terrorists are treated there. Instead of interrogating these suspects and digging out their ties to al Qaeda, Riyadh lets them sign a public pledge to forswear terrorism and go back to their families or tribes. For now, Kuwait would rather make sure the violent men it has captured in bloody street battles go nowhere.