Seven countries issue Iran-related sanctions on 25 targets

Seven countries issue Iran-related sanctions on 25 targets
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and six other countries imposed sanctions on Wednesday on 25 corporations, banks and people linked to Iran’s support for militant networks including Hezbollah, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

The targets were announced by the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) nations – which also include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was on a Middle East trip to finalize details of an economic development plan for the Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

All 25 targets were previously sanctioned by the United States.

“The TFTC’s action coincides with my trip to the Middle East, where I am meeting with my counterparts across the region to bolster the fight against terrorist financing,” Mnuchin said in the Treasury statement.

In Jerusalem on Monday, Mnuchin said the United States would increase economic pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, making the pledge during a Middle East trip that includes visits to U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Sanctions reimposed on Tehran by President Donald Trump after he withdrew the United States from world powers’ 2015 nuclear pact with Tehran have dried up Iranian oil revenues and cut Iranian banks’ ties to the financial world.

Twenty-one of the targets announced Wednesday comprised a vast network of businesses providing financial support to the Basij Resistance Force, the Treasury said.

It said shell companies and other measures were used to mask Basij ownership and control over multibillion-dollar business interests in Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries, many of which have operate across the Middle East and Europe.

The four individuals targeted were Hezbollah-affiliated and help coordinate the group’s operations in Iraq, it said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Australia says no timeframe to decide case of Saudi teen asylum seeker

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference at Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday there was no timeframe for the assessment of the case of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her.

The U.N. refugee agency has referred Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement.

“Following the UNHCR referrals, Australia is now going through the steps we are required to do in relation to the assessment process and then when that is complete an announcement will be made,” Payne said in Bangkok, after arriving on a visit arranged before Qunun sought asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/ @rahaf84427714/via REUTERS

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/ @rahaf84427714/via REUTERS

Qunun is staying in a Bangkok hotel under the care of the UNHCR.

She arrived in Thailand on Saturday and was initially denied entry. She had been intending to fly from there to Australia to seek asylum.

She soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up, spread by a loose network of online activists, and the world watched as she refused to board a flight to Saudi Arabia and barricade herself inside a transit lounge hotel room.

On Monday evening, Thai authorities allowed her to enter the country.

Her case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

‘AUSTRALIA’S CONCERN’

Payne’s visit has also thrown a spotlight on another refugee case, involving Bahrain footballer Hakeem AlAraibi, who has refugee status in Australia but was arrested at Bangkok airport last year after arriving for his honeymoon.

Bahrain made a request to have him extradited and he is in jail, waiting for a hearing to decide his case.

Payne withheld talks with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong, who is also justice minister, and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

“I also appreciate the opportunity … to raise Australia’s concern about the detention of and possible return of Mr Hakeem AlAraibi to Bahrain,” Payne told reporters after the meeting.

“The Thai government is aware of the importance of this matter to Australia.”

AlAraibi was convicted for vandalizing a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.

“He has denied all wrongdoing as accused by the Bahrain government,” Nadthasiri Bergman, AlAraibi’s lawyer in Thailand told Reuters.

“He would be put in danger if he is sent back to Bahrain.”

World football governing body FIFA says AlAraibi should be freed and allowed to return to Australia where he plays for Melbourne football club Pascoe Vale in the second tier of the Australian League.

Activists have called on Thai authorities to “show humanity” to AlAraibi in the same way that they did to Qunun.

(This version of the story adds dropped word ‘agency’ in paragraph 2)

(Additional report by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Robert Birsel)

‘They will kill me’: Saudi woman to seek asylum after fleeing family to Thailand

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family and is currently in Bangkok, Thailand, is shown in this undated photo obtained by Reuters from social media. @rahaf84427714/via REUTERS

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and barricaded herself inside a Bangkok airport hotel to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities has left the airport after talks with the United Nations refugee agency, an official said on Monday.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has been at Bangkok’s international airport since Saturday when she arrived from Kuwait, saying she fears her family will kill her if she is forced to return home. Her relatives have not commented on her accusations of abuse and Reuters was not able to reach them.

A hotel inside transit area at Suvarnabhumi Airport where Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her family has barricaded herself inside a room in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A hotel inside transit area at Suvarnabhumi Airport where Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her family has barricaded herself inside a room in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of a journalist at its consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Thai immigration officials had planned to put Qunun on a flight back to Kuwait on Monday but relented after her online pleas drew international attention.

She told Reuters via text and audio messages she had fled Kuwait during a family visit there and had planned to travel to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was held after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.

“They will kill me,” Qunun told Reuters. “My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”

A representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met Qunun at the airport and also discussed the case with Thai immigration officials. After the meeting, Thailand’s immigration chief said she would not be expelled.

“We will take her into Bangkok and provide her with safe shelter under the care of the UNHCR,” immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters on Monday evening.

He said the UNHCR would work on processing Qunun’s request for refugee status. Giuseppe de Vincentis, the UNHCR representative in Thailand, said the Thai government had given assurances Qunun would not be expelled to any country where she might be in danger while her case was being processed.

“PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL ABUSE”

Qunun posted a video on Twitter on Monday of her barricading her hotel door with a table and a mattress. She said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them.

Asked why she was seeking refuge in Australia, she told Reuters: “Physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education.

“They won’t let me drive or travel. I am oppressed. I love life and work and I am very ambitious but my family is preventing me from living.”

The Saudi foreign ministry said in a tweet that its embassy was in touch with the woman’s father and the Thai government, but its diplomats had not met or communicated with her.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thailand should not send Qunun back to her family because she says she faces danger.

Qunun said she had obtained an Australian visa and booked a flight. She said she had planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.

Thai immigration chief Surachate, however, said that Qunun did not have a visa for Australia. The Australian Embassy said it had no immediate comment.

Contradicting earlier accounts from Thai officials, Surachate said Thai authorities had been contacted by the Saudis before deciding to deny Qunun entry to the country.

“The Saudi Arabia embassy contacted the immigration police … and said that the girl had run away from her parents and they fear for her safety,” he said.

“We acknowledged this and checked her paperwork. She had a passport but no return ticket, no travel plan, and no destination or hotel reservation in Thailand … so per airport security procedures, immigration denied her entry.”

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um in BANGKOK and Ghaida Ghantous in DUBAI; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Graff)

Kuwait condemns Philippine president’s call to evacuate workers

Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah attends the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, in Bayan, Kuwait February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

KUWAIT (Reuters) – A top Kuwaiti official condemned on Tuesday a call by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to evacuate his country’s workers from Kuwait, suggesting Duterte could damage ties between the two countries.

Duterte said last week that his government would ask private airlines to evacuate Filipino nationals from Kuwait within 72 hours, after the discovery of the dead body of a Filipino migrant worker in a freezer.

Two planes full of workers arrived in Manila from Kuwait on Monday on flights provided for free by commercial airlines at the president’s request. On Sunday, the Philippine labor minister said more than 2,200 Filipinos were ready to take up Duterte’s offer.

“We are surprised and we condemn statements from the Philippine president, especially as we are in contact with the Philippines on a high level to explain the workers’ conditions in Kuwait,” said Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah.

He was speaking at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Islamic State.

“Escalation does not serve the ties between Kuwait and the Philippines,” Sheikh Sabah said, adding that 170,000 Filipinos “live a decent life in Kuwait … but separate accidents unfortunately happen, and we are providing our Filipino counterparts with the results of the investigations.”

The Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait in January after reports that abuse by employers had driven several to suicide.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Additional reporting by Martin Petty; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Andrew Torchia, William Maclean)

Saudi Arabia and Iraq to re-open border crossing after 27 years

FILE PHOTO: A member from the Iraqi security forces stands guard at a checkpoint during a patrol at the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990, when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Saudi local media reported on Tuesday.

Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the haj season, the Mecca newspaper reported.

The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties.

“This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudia Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.

The announcement follows a decision by the Saudi cabinet on Monday to establish a joint trade commission with Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both wooing their northern neighbor in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of arch-foe Iran.

The Sunni-led Arab Gulf countries have hosted influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for talks with their crown princes in recent weeks, rare visits after years of troubled relations.

Sadr’s office said his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman resulted in an agreement for Saudi Arabia to donate $10 million in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.

The opening of border crossings for trade was also on a list of goals for the talks published by Sadr’s office.

Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Tehran.

The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad in February, and the two countries announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties.

(Reporting by Katie Paul and Ahmed Rasheed, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Gulf states squeeze Qatar as U.S., Kuwait probe for solution to row

Buildings are seen on a coast line in Doha, Qatar June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

By Tom Finn

DOHA (Reuters) – Gulf states cranked up the pressure on Qatar on Thursday as U.S. President Donald Trump and Kuwait’s emir worked to end an Arab row that Qataris say has led to a blockade of their country, an investment powerhouse and supplier of gas to world markets.

With Trump offering to help resolve the crisis, possibly with a meeting at the White House, the United Arab Emirates cut postal links to Qatar, and close Saudi ally Bahrain reiterated a demand that Doha distance itself from regional foe Iran.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and several other countries severed diplomatic and transport ties with Doha on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their arch-foe Iran – charges Qatar says are baseless.

Normally guarded about politics, Qataris expressed outrage.

“It is a blockade! Like that of Berlin. A declaration of war. A political, economic and social aggression,” a Qatari diplomat said. “We need the world to condemn the aggressors.”

With food and other supplies disrupted and worries mounting about deepening economic turbulence, banks and firms in Gulf Arab states were seeking to keep business links to Qatar open and avoid a costly firesale of assets.

Turkey has brought forward a troop deployment to Qatar and pledged to provide food and water supplies to its Arab ally, which hosts a Turkish military base. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said isolating Qatar would not resolve any problems.

The UAE’s national postal service, Emirates Post Group, suspended all postal services to Qatar, state news agency WAM said, the latest in a series of measures degrading commercial and communications links with Doha.

The Abu Dhabi Petroleum Ports Authority also reimposed a ban on oil tankers linked to Qatar calling at ports in the UAE, reversing an earlier decision to ease restrictions, and potentially creating a logjam of crude cargoes.

Trump initially took sides with the Saudi-led group before apparently being nudged into a more even-handed approach when U.S. defense officials renewed praise of Doha, mindful of the major U.S. military base hosted by Qatar that serves, in part, as a launchpad for strikes on Islamic State jihadists.

In his second intervention in the dispute in as many days, Trump urged action against terrorism in a call with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, a White House statement said, suggesting a meeting at the White House “if necessary”.

It said that Trump, in a later call with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, called for unity among Gulf Arabs “but never at the expense of eliminating funding for radical extremism or defeating terrorism”.

Officials from Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors embarked on a quickening round of shuttle diplomacy, with the Qatari foreign minister due in Moscow and Brussels and Bahrain’s king visiting his ally Egypt for talks on the crisis.

SAUDIS SAY OUTSIDE MEDIATION UNWANTED

Qatar called for “dialogue and diplomacy”.

The Qatari ambassador to Washington, Meshal Hamad al-Thani, wrote on Twitter that a key pillar of Doha’s foreign policy was mediation. “Open channels of communication means venues for conflict resolution,” he said.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Gulf states could resolve the dispute among themselves without outside help.

“We have not asked for mediation, we believe this issue can be dealt with among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” he told a news conference with his German counterpart during a visit to Berlin broadcast on Saudi state television.

The foreign minister of Oman met fellow GCC member Kuwait’s emir for talks. The Kuwaiti leader went to the UAE and Qatar on Wednesday for talks on the crisis and is now back in Kuwait.

In the meantime, Qatar’s neighbors kept up a drumbeat of criticism and warnings.

In an interview with BBC radio, UAE Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash said Qatar had to choose between supporting extremism or supporting its neighbors.

“We have all kinds of recordings taking place where they (Qatar) are coordinating with al Qaeda in Syria,” he said.

“Qatar needs to decide: Do you want to be in the pocket of Turkey, Iran and Islamic extremists? They need to make a decision; they can’t have it both ways.

The Saudi newspaper al Watan published what it called a list of eight “extremist organizations” seen as working to destabilize the region from Qatar, including Qatar’s al Jazeera news channel, that were targeted by Gulf Arab states.

Qatar has backed Islamist movements but vehemently denies supporting terrorism. It provides a haven to anti-Western groups such as the Afghan Taliban, Palestinian Hamas and Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front. Qatar says it does not accept its neighbors’ view that any group with an Islamist background is terrorist. Qatar’s emir has said such a view is a big mistake.

In an interview published by Saudi-owned Asharq al Awsat newspaper, Bahraini Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said conditions posed by the four countries for a resolution of the crisis were “crystal clear”.

“NUMBER ONE ENEMY IRAN”

“Qatar has to redress its path and has to go back to all previous commitments, it has to stop media campaigns and has to distance itself from our number one enemy Iran.”

Jubeir declined to confirm a list of 10 demands published by Al Jazeera, which included shutting down the widely watched, Doha-based satellite network. But he added that Qatar knew what it needed to do to restore normal relations.

Turkey’s Erdogan called Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, late on Wednesday and discussed developments in the Gulf and ways to cement cooperation between Muslim countries, the Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA said. Turkey, like Kuwait, has offered to mediate.

In a sign of the economic damage from the dispute, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Qatar’s debt on Wednesday as the country’s riyal currency fell to an 11-year low amid signs that portfolio investment funds were flowing out because of the rift.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told Reuters more economic curbs would be imposed on Qatar if necessary and said Doha needed to make ironclad commitments to change what critics call a policy on funding Islamist militants.

He later told France 24 television that any further steps could take the form of “a sort of embargo on Qatar”.

In a measure that cemented earlier UAE restrictions on air transport, the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority said it had closed the air space for all air traffic to and from Doha until further notice.

Regional tensions have been aggravated by the worst dispute among Gulf Arabs for two decades and were ratcheted up further on Wednesday after militants attacked targets in Tehran, killing at least 12 people.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran blamed Sunni Muslim arch-rival Saudi Arabia for the attack, which was claimed by the Sunni Islamic State. Riyadh denied any involvement.

(Additional reporting by Reem Shamseddine, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Sylvia Westall, Sami Aboudi and Andrew Torchia, Writing by William Maclean, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Kuwait seeks to mediate Arab crisis over Qatar

An Eikon ship-tracking screen shows tanker traffic around Qatar over the last seven days in this June 6, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

By Tom Finn and Sylvia Westall

DOHA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s ruler will travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, hoping to heal a damaging rift between Qatar and powerful Arab states over the former’ s alleged support of Islamist militants and of political and religious rival Iran.

Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber al-Sabah will meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and seek to resolve the worst infighting among the Arab world’s strongest and richest powers in decades.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar and closed their airspace to commercial flights on Monday.

In a sign of the potential consequences for the Qatari economy, a number of banks in the region began stepping back from business dealings with Qatar. Saudi Arabia’s central bank advised banks in the kingdom not to trade with Qatari banks in Qatari riyals, sources said.

Oil prices also fell on concern that the rift would undermine efforts by OPEC to tighten production.

Qatar and the other Arab states fell out over Doha’s alleged support for Islamist militants and Shi’ite Iran — charges Qatar has called baseless.

It said, however, that it would not retaliate and hoped Kuwait would help resolve the dispute.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV that Qatar wants to give Kuwait’s ruler the ability to “proceed and communicate with the parties to the crisis and to try to contain the issue”.

Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, spoke by telephone overnight with his counterpart in Kuwait and, in order to allow Kuwait to mediate, decided to put off a planned speech to the nation, the foreign minister said.

Qatar has for years parlayed its enormous gas wealth and media influence into a broad influence in the region. But Gulf Arab neighbors and Egypt have long been irked by its maverick stances and support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a political enemy.

Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives – close allies of Qatar’s adversaries in the spat – also cut ties.

The United States, Russia, France, Iran and Turkey have all called for the row to be resolved through dialogue.

BANKS SHUN QATAR, FLIGHTS DIVERTED

Tightening pressure, Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority revoked the license of Qatar Airways and ordered its offices to be closed within 48 hours, a day after the kingdom, the UAE and Bahrain closed their airspace to Qatari commercial flights.

Flight tracker websites showed Qatar Airways flights taking a circuitous route mostly over Iran to avoid their neighbors.

Some Saudi Arabian and UAE commercial banks were also shunning Qatari banks, holding off on letters of credit, banking sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

With an estimated $335 billion of assets in its sovereign wealth fund and its gas exports earning billions of dollars every month, Qatar, however, has enough financial power to protect its banks.

Qatar’s stock market rebounded in early trade on Tuesday after plunging the previous day but the Qatari riyal fell against the U.S. dollar.

Kuwait’s emir, who has spent decades as a diplomat and mediator in regional disputes, hosted Sheikh Tamim last week as the crisis began brewing.

Monday’s decision forbids Saudi, UAE and Bahraini citizens from traveling to Qatar, residing in it or passing through it, instructing their citizens to leave Qatar within 14 days and Qatari nationals were given 14 days to leave those countries.

The measures are more severe than during a previous eight-month rift in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, again alleging Qatari support for militant groups.

The United Arab Emirates said Qatar needed to carry out specific confidence-building measures and change its behavior.

“After previous experiences with the brother state, we need a frame for the future that will consolidate the security and the stability of the region,” UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter overnight.

“We need to rebuild trust after broken pledges, we need a guaranteed roadmap,” he wrote.

But Qatari state TV broadcast images of Sheikh Tamim embracing the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi — whose stay in Doha has for years irked Gulf states – as part of an annual Ramadan reception with Islamic clerics on Monday.

(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Tom Arnold, Hadeel Al Sayegh, William Maclean and Celine Aswad in Dubai, Writing by Noah Browning, Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Suspected Islamic State cell was planning attacks on U.S. forces in Kuwait

An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture illustration taken

KUWAIT CITY (Reuters) – Suspected Islamic State militants arrested in Kuwait and the Philippines were planning to carry out bombings against U.S. military forces in Kuwait, the Gulf country’s al-Rai newspaper reported on Monday.

The suspects were also plotting a suicide attack on a Hussainiya, or Shi’ite Muslim meeting hall, said al-Rai, which has close ties to the security services.

Philippine security forces arrested a Kuwaiti and a Syrian for suspected links to Islamic State on March 25, three months after they arrived in Manila.

Al-Rai said Kuwaiti security forces also arrested a Syrian chemistry teacher suspected of involvement with the plots.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait referred queries to Kuwaiti authorities. Kuwaiti security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kuwait, home to several U.S. military bases, suffered its deadliest militant attack in decades when a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up inside a packed Shi’ite mosque in June 2015, killing 27 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy Writing by Katie Paul; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Terror Cell with Iranian Ties Busted in Kuwait

Kuwaiti intelligence officers have broken up a terrorist cell with connections to both Iran and Hezbollah.

The statement from the country’s interior ministry says three Kuwaiti nationals are under arrest and the search is ongoing for three others suspected as part of the cell.

Security officials say the men have connections to both Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist network.  The police found the men with a large cache of weapons and explosives hidden in an underground bunker area located on a farm.

Police reported finding 204 hand grenades, 65 guns, 56 rocket-propelled grenades and 317 pounds of bomb-making material.

The report also stated that three of the cell members were divers who smuggled explosives but also tracked the movements of ships around the nation.

The arrests marked the second straight month of breaking terror cells.  Last month, Kuwaiti terror forces broke apart an ISIS related group.

“Jihadi John” Identified As Former Briton

British authorities have determined the identity of the masked ISIS member who has beheaded several captives in online videos.

The terrorist has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, in his mid to late 20s and crossed into Syria sometime during 2012.  Emwazi was born in Kuwait but grew up with a wealthy family in West London and obtained a college degree in computer programming.  After graduating from college, he became more radicalized and left to join jihad.

British officials are admitting they had been watching Emwazi for at least five years after returning from a job with a computer company in Kuwait.  He was imprisoned by British officials when he returned to the country.

“I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started,” the BBC reports Emwazi as writing in a June 2010 email. “[But now] I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London, a person imprisoned and controlled by security service men, stopping me from living my new life in my birthplace and country, Kuwait.”

He escaped to Syria in 2012.

Prime Minister David Cameron declined to comment on the identity of the terrorist.