KUWAIT CITY – A Sunni fundamentalist from Kuwait who has been linked by the United Nations and the United States to Al Qaeda, said in an interview published Wednesday that Iran is supporting Sunni Arab insurgents fighting American troops in Iraq.
The comments by Mubarak al-Bathali came just days after reports surfaced here that three Kuwaitis recently carried out suicide bombings in Iraq, including a Kuwaiti who was a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner. Kuwaiti authorities have not confirmed those reports.
The U.S. has accused Iran — which is predominantly Shiite like Iraq — of supporting Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran denies this and blames the U.S. troops presence for the violence in Iraq.
The accusations by al-Bathali were a rare occasion that a Sunni fundamentalist claimed Tehran also backs Sunni extremists, linked to Al Qaeda. In the battlefields of Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites are archenemies.
In the interview in Kuwaiti Al-Qabas daily, al-Bathali said that Tehran is supplying Al Qaeda fighters and other Jihad movements in Iraq with "weapons and money" and claimed he has personally sent fighters to Iraq by way of Syria.
Al-Bathali alleged that Iran's motivation for backing both the Sunnis and Shiites opposed to Washington, was because Tehran is eager to "place hurdles in front of America" so that the U.S. would be "too busy to fight" Iran. He also said Iran facilitates the entry of fighters into Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Any person who wants Jihad (holy war), is of age and responsible and honest in his intent, I send him and prepare him," al-Bathali said. "I guarantee passage into Syria and reception there, until he finds himself in Iraq carrying a weapon and fighting."
Al-Bathali, whose remarks were unusually bold, said he has also sent Kuwaitis to fight in Kosovo and Chechnya.
He gave no evidence of his claims and provided no further details. But he mentioned his son, Abdel Rahman, who was captured in Iraq in 2004 and sentenced there to 10 years for working with Al Qaeda.
"If I had sons other than Abdel Rahman, I would have sent them to fight the Americans until doomsday," he said in the interview. Al-Bathali could not be reached by The Associated Press for comment.
In January, the U.N. Security Council added al-Bathali and two other Kuwaitis to a list of about 480 individuals and businesses linked to Al Qaeda and its sponsor the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Treasury Department has said al-Bathali is a fundraiser and recruiter for Usama bin Laden's terror network and has facilitated travel for extremists planning to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Al-Bathali told Al-Qabas that he doesn't send fighters to Iraq through the Iraq-Kuwait border because the area beyond the boundary in southern Iraq is controlled by "Shiites and British forces." Instead, the "easiest borders have been the Syrian and Saudi," he said.
The U.S. has chastised Syria for allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq. Syria denies the charges and claims it's impossible to seal its border completely.
Small oil-rich Kuwait has been a major Washington ally since the U.S.-led 1991 Gulf War that liberated it from a seven-month Iraqi occupation. However, some of its fundamentalist Muslims disapprove of U.S. forces being based in their country or any other in the area.
Media reports have said that three Kuwaitis, including Abdullah al-Ajmi who was released from the U.S. detention facility at Guantnamo Bay in 2005, carried out suicide bombings in Iraq recently. The families of al-Ajmi and another alleged bomber, Bader al-Harbi, said they received anonymous calls informing them the men died in Iraq.
Al-Bathali told Al-Qabas the three left Kuwait "only after a martyrdom operation was prepared for them in agreement with coordinators" in Iraq. He did not say if he had a role in sending them himself.