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Among Kuwait's Salafis, a rejection of violence

Inside a desert tent, Islamists speak benignly of US and of ways to thwart attacks.

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In the corner of the tent, a television silently broadcasts a soccer match. But the young Kuwaiti men who have gathered for the diwaniya, or evening meeting, in this lonely spot in the desert are not interested in soccer.

Sitting on cushions, they are deep in discussion about a young man some of them knew named Amer Khleif al-Enezi and how this once unremarkable Muslim turned into an angry extremist whose struggle against the United States and the Kuwaiti government ended with his death, apparently from "heart failure," in a police cell last week. Mr. Enezi's story is not unique in the Arab world, a tale of resentment against the US combined with harsh treatment by his own government yielding potent results.

Like Enezi, most of the dozen or so men gathered in the tent are members of the austere Salafi sect of Sunni Islam. But there the similarity ends. For these men strongly condemn the emergence of Islamic radicals in this small, wealthy desert nation that has spurred a bloody security crackdown over the past month.

"All the Kuwaiti people are against terrorism and its destructive actions," says Abdullah Fadli, a student of the Koran with a long straggly beard and wire-rimmed glasses. "Those who call themselves radicals are nothing more than criminals and deviants."

In contrast to the pervasive anti-American sentiment found in many Arab countries, most Kuwaitis tend to have a benign view of the US, a legacy of Washington's role in driving Iraqi occupation troops out of their country in 1991. They reject the brutal insurgency in Iraq and regard the presence of some 25,000 American troops in Kuwait as a necessary bulwark against external threats.

"The resistance in Iraq are all followers of Saddam Hussein and have nothing to do with jihad and Islam," says Mubarak. "We support stability and it is very important for the American forces to stay for the time being."

Abdullah agrees.

"The interests of Kuwait are related to the interests of America," he says. "The position of Kuwait is very different to other Arab and Islamic countries."

Journey to militancy

There are exceptions to this accommodating view of the US. One of them was Enezi, who was arrested following a gun battle with Kuwaiti police on Jan. 31. Before his death eight days later, the former mosque preacher confessed that he had been planning to attack US military convoys in Kuwait.


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