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Kuwait: Amid Arrests, Interior Minister Accuses Baghdad Of Fomenting Terror

Kuwait's interior minister is accusing Baghdad of backing terrorist attacks in Kuwait. The allegations follow a series of arrests in terrorism cases that involve Kuwaiti police and civil servants -- as well as the arrest of a Kuwaiti and an Iraqi citizen for spying on war preparations by U.S. and British troops.

Al-Abraq, Kuwait; 27 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In the past week, with Kuwait on heightened alert against possible terrorist attacks, four Kuwaitis and one Iraqi citizen have been arrested in the Gulf emirate on charges of terrorism or spying for Iraq.

A Kuwaiti police officer was among three Kuwaitis charged earlier this week for allegedly planning to attack a convoy of U.S. troops that was deploying to forward positions in northern Kuwait ahead of possible U.S.-led military action against Iraq.

Kuwait's interior minister, Sheik Muhammad Khaled al-Sabah, said the three men are Al-Qaeda sympathizers and were caught with weapons and ammunition in their possession while trying to position themselves to attack the U.S. convoy.

He blames Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for encouraging attacks on U.S. and British troops. Al-Sabah says intelligence reports show that, even now, Hussein is trying to instigate more terrorist actions inside Kuwait.

"Our primary concern is internal security -- and this escalating problem around us," al-Sabah said. "The preparations by [foreign] troops are not something Kuwait is involved in. It is the internal situation more than any [foreign] military preparations that is our concern. And when we talk about terrorism attacks inside Kuwait, it is the result of an intelligence war with the Iraqi regime."

Kuwaitis have carried out several terrorist attacks against U.S. soldiers or civilians working for the U.S. army in Kuwait during the past five months.

In January, a 25-year old Kuwaiti civil servant said to be an Al-Qaeda sympathizer shot dead a U.S. civilian military contractor and injured another at a traffic light near Camp Doha, the main U.S. military base in Kuwait.

In November, a Kuwaiti policeman shot and injured two U.S. soldiers after he pulled them over for speeding on a highway near the southern base of Arifjan.

And last October, a U.S. Marine was shot dead and another was injured by two assailants during military training exercises on Failakah Island off the coast of Kuwait. The assailants were shot dead by other U.S. Marines on the island.

Kuwait is a key U.S. ally in the Gulf region and has hosted American troops on its soil since a U.S.-led coalition ousted invading Iraqi troops in 1991.

Al-Sabah says the latest arrest of a Kuwaiti police officer in connection with a planned attack against U.S. troops is an isolated incident. He says it does not represent the spirit of Kuwait's 17,000 security officers.

Al-Sabah was asked by RFE/RL about concrete steps being taken to ensure that there are not additional attacks against U.S. or British troops by his own security officers: "Regarding the security services, it is true that we have increased our efforts to take control of things. What happened [with the recent arrest of the three Kuwaitis for planning an attack on U.S. troops] was the result of our precautionary efforts. With the help of God, the government security officers managed to control this situation [before the attack was carried out]. And this motivates us more to stop anyone else who is trying to jeopardize the security and the safety of Kuwait."

Al-Sabah said there are only a "minimal" number of radical Islamists within Kuwait who sympathize with Al-Qaeda or Iraq.

The U.S. Embassy has asked American citizens to consider leaving Kuwait and says it is concerned by attacks such as those allegedly planned by the three Kuwaiti men.

The possibility of a war against Iraq also has raised concerns that U.S.-led military action will fuel further anti-American anger and unleash new attacks against U.S. troops and civilians in Kuwait.

For his part, the Kuwaiti interior minister revealed some details about efforts to combat terrorism in comments he made about this week's arrests. Al-Sabah said those two arrests are not directly related: "The Kuwaiti person [who was arrested as a spy] was in contact with an Iraqi officer at the Iraqi Embassy in Yemen. The other person, [an Iraqi national who was arrested on charges of spying on U.S. military defenses near Camp Doha], was based out of the Iraqi Embassy in Bahrain. He was an intelligence officer working there. He wasn't one of our civilians working with Iraq. He was an Iraqi intelligence agent."

Al-Sabah explained that both espionage cases emerged as the result of shared information between Kuwait and intelligence agencies from some of the other five countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman: "There's no doubt that we have good cooperation with our brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council. In the name of God, one should be proud of the communications and cooperation between us. And they also know what we need. If you open an embassy or a consulate in another country it means that you have relations on a certain level. We are working closely with our brothers in Bahrain and in other GCC countries, and we are thankful for their concern."

Al-Sabah said neither espionage case has resulted in the confirmation of links between Baghdad and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.