Parents demand return of teens lured by Al Qaida for 'vacation'

Sunday, May 23, 2004

ABU DHABI The government of Kuwait has come under pressure from parents of teenagers recruited by Al Qaida-inspired groups to fight the U.S.-led coalition in neighboring Iraq.

Kuwaiti officials said young people had been provided plane tickets to Damascus in a journey disguised as a vacation. They said the Cabinet has discussed the activities of so-called Islamic missionaries believed to have persuaded high school students to leave their homes and join the Islamic war against the United States.

The parents of some of these youngsters in some cases sons of prominent families have demanded that the government find their children.

Officials said the recruiters ordered the Kuwaiti youngsters to wear Western clothes and haircuts to avoid suspicion in Syria, Middle East Newsline reported. In Syria, officials said, the youngsters were trained for combat against U.S. and coalition troops. From Syria, they were transported to the Iraqi border and picked up on the other side for the drive to such cities as Faluja and Baghdad.

Officials said the sheikdom's security services have not ruled out that funding and other support for the recruitment of the youngsters were funneled through Islamic opposition parties. They said the opposition has tried to undermine the pro-U.S. policies of Kuwait's ruling family.

"The assorted Islamic political movements are attempting to force the state to behave according to their conditions," Ahmad Al-Rubei, a leading Kuwaiti analyst, said. "They perceive the state to be weak, and in this weakness they are taking every opportunity to eat the cheese piece by piece gradually and methodically taking over the state and its institutions."

Al Qaida has garnered popularity amid the U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Gulf. In 2003, Al Qaida-inspired insurgents conducted several attacks against U.S. soldiers in Kuwait.

The leader of the Islamic recruitment effort in Kuwait has not been formally identified. But authorities have been investigating a complaint to authorities that a professor of Islamic culture has been sending his students to Syria to fight the U.S. military in Iraq.

Hamed Al Ali, the professor, has been identified as a leading supporter of Al Qaida. He was said to have been a leader of the Salafist movement in Kuwait and has given sermons that included appeals for attacks on Americans and Israelis.

Officials have also not ruled out the recruitment of Kuwaiti Shi'ites to fight the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. They said the Mahdi Army led by Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada Sadr might have sent messages for Kuwaiti Shi'ites to join his forces.

Sadr has criticized Kuwait for its hosting of the U.S. military and called the sheikdom an enemy of Iraq. He has attacked Kuwait repeatedly in his weekly sermons.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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