The 2015 Kuwait Mosque Bombing

The Al-Imam As-Sadiq Mosque about one month after the terrorist attack.
The Al-Imam As-Sadiq Mosque about one month after the terrorist attack.

A suicide bombing took place on 26 June 2015 at a Shia mosque in Kuwait. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attack. Kuwait’s Emir arrived at the location of the incident a few hours after the bombing. Twenty-seven people were killed and 227 people were wounded. Twenty-nine suspects were taken to court and after approximately ten sessions, most of them public, 15 were found guilty, with 7 to receive capital punishment (5 in absentia). Those include Adel Eidan, who drove the bomber to the mosque and admitted his intention to bomb the mosque and claimed that he wanted the mosque itself to be bombed, but “not the people”, and Mohammed and Majid az-Zahrani (in absentia), who delivered the explosives to the terrorists in Kuwait and were arrested by Saudi authorities.

Three other Islamist attacks took place on the same day in France, Tunisia, and Somalia. The attacks followed an audio message released three days earlier by ISIS senior leader, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, encouraging militants everywhere to attack the stated enemies of ISIS during the month of Ramadan. No definitive link between the attacks has yet been established. One attack, at a French factory, resulted in the beheading of one person; another, at a Tunisian beach resort, killed 38, most of them tourists; and the other, an attack on an African Union base undertaken by Al-Shabaab, killed at least 70.

Background

The only prior bombing attacks in Kuwait took place in 1983 and 1985, which caused at least five fatalities – the perpetrators themselves. Sectarian tensions have been generally low in Kuwait. The Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Kuwait, located in the Sawabir district in Sharg area, which is a part of the Capital Governorate. The mosque is attended mainly by Shia Muslim worshippers.

This attack was a part of the strategic terrorism of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which considers Shia Islam to be heresy. In late May 2015, after the Qatif and Dammam mosque bombings, ISIL released a voice message calling on Muslims to clear the Arabian Peninsula of its Shia population.

Bomb explosion

A suicide bomber attacked the mosque during Friday prayers in Muslim holy month of Ramadan, factors that made the mosque more crowded than usual. At least eight people were immediately killed in the blast, which heavily damaged parts of the building. A witness said that the bomber entered the last row between the worshipers and detonated his device. Another witness, Parliament member Khalil al-Salih, who was in the mosque during the attack, said the same. He added “The explosion was really hard. The ceiling and wall got destroyed”. He added that more than 2,000 people were praying there at that time.

– Victims

Twenty-seven people were killed, consisting of 18 Kuwaitis, three Iranians, two Indians, one Saudi, one Pakistani and one Bedoon. Another 227 people were wounded in the attack, of whom 40 were still hospitalized on 28 June. Eight of the deceased victims were sent to Peace Valley cemetery, in the Shia holy city of Najaf, Iraq, by an official state plane.

– Responsibility and investigation

Kuwait is one of the world’s biggest funders of Islamic terrorism, especially Al-Qaeda and ISIS. According to the United States government, Kuwait is lax on terror funding. The Kuwaiti government is often accused of funding ISIS terrorism in Iraq and Syria. In January 2014, the United States accused a Kuwaiti government official of funding Al-Qaeda terrorism.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant identified the bomber as Abu Suleiman al-Muwahhid, and said in a statement posted on social media that he had targeted a “temple of the rejectionists” – a derogative term used towards Shias. By the following day, Kuwaiti authorities had arrested several people in connection with the attacks, including the driver of the car that took the bomber to the mosque, and the owner of the house he stayed in, which initial investigations showed that he is a supporter of “extremist and deviant ideology”. The Ministry of Interior released a statement on its website two days after, identifying the perpetrator as Fahd Suleiman al-Qabba (born 1992), a Saudi citizen. The statement added that the terrorist arrived in the country on a commercial flight on the day of the attack. In his Instagram account, the arrested owner of the car, posted pictures of him giving lessons to kids in a mosque in the Sulaibiya area. His account was suspended in accordance with Instagram terms.

According to local newspapers, the perpetrators were told 20 days before to commit an operation that will “Shake Kuwait up”, and let them choose the time and location. After picking the location, they contacted ISIL leaders about their plans via WhatsApp and e-mail, and checked the mosque for a two-week period. The source says that the explosives arrived at terrorist’s house by partners from Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, the driver stopped at the parking lot of the mosque, along with suicide bomber at 11:00 am. Both of them waited until the mosque got crowded with worshipers. The suspected suicide bomber then went out holding a device, and when he opened his hand the bomb exploded. CCTV clip indicates that the suicide bomber walked into the mosque with his left hand crossed at his stomach. After the crime, the perpetrators were planning to escape Kuwait, but the rapid response of the Ministry of the Interior left them with no time to do so. The day of the attacks has been dubbed “Bloody Friday” by international media.

Two weeks later, Saudi authorities said that they had arrested three brothers suspected to be involved in the attack. On 14 July, the public prosecutor charged twenty-nine people involved in the attack – including the two Saudi brothers – and one still at large. The public prosecutor demanded the death penalty for eleven suspects.

– Trial

Most sessions were public. Eleven suspects were released after the 6 August session, and the trial was deferred to the 10 August to assign new lawyers to those suspects without legal representatives. After the trial, the lawyer of the 9th and 11th suspects stepped down from defending the ninth suspect, as his testimony contradicted that of the eleventh. The lawyer of the 26th suspect also stepped down for “private reasons”. The first suspect’s lawyer also stepped down claiming the same reason. The first suspect’s, Adel Eidan made the claim that he wanted to bomb the mosque without killing anyone. On the 15 August session, a lawyer was fined 100 KWD (~$330) for not showing up without an excuse, and another attorney was assigned for his clients. On the same session, one of the suspect’s claim that he was tortured was refuted by the Forensic Medicine doctors. All session were public except the fourth session, and the suspects were able to see and contact their lawyers. Some females suspects were charged with hiding and destroying important evidence. For example, the twentieth suspect destroyed Fahd al-Qabba’s (the bomber’s) mobile phone. On 14 September 2015, the court ruled that 15 out of the 29 suspects had been found guilty, with seven receiving death sentences (five in absentia).

Aftermath

The Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah was on the scene minutes after the attack, as was the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, who called for an urgent meeting. The cabinet convened an emergency session later in the afternoon.

Several pictures were posted in social media and local newspapers showing men smeared with blood outside the mosque, a row of victims wrapped in white body bags, and the damage the mosque received. Calls for blood donations have been made. After receiving sufficient blood, the rest of the donors were told to come back after iftar – the meal eaten after sunset that marks the end of fasting. According to a Blood Bank supervisor, the bank received 1300 donors by the end of first day. The wounded were sent to more than five hospitals across the country.

Several private hospitals announced that they will treat any victim of the incident for free. Stuttgart Hospital in Germany announced that they will treat the victims for free. Some of the injured were sent there. The German Vivantes (de) medical group sent medical staff to Kuwait.

Funeral

The condolence acceptance was held in Grand Mosque, the country’s largest Sunni mosque on Saturday, 27 June. The Emir, Crown Prince, Prime Minister, former Prime Minister, other ministers, MPs, and high-ranked officials all attended. At least 35,000 Kuwaitis, expatriates and mourners from the GCC countries attended the burial at Ja’fari Cemetery in Sulaibikhat. Paramedics were on site and helped those who fainted due to the hot temperature which reached 45 °C. Parliament Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim said at the funeral: “The unity of the people of our country is incredible … If you look around you will see Sunnis and Shiites, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, all present to give their condolences to the families of the victims.”

Response

– Local

All segments of Kuwaiti society have released statements condemning the attack. Kuwait’s Emir came to the location of the incident minutes after it happened. He was warned that it’s dangerous for him to get out, to which he replied “Those are my sons”. The Mosque’s administration released a statement one day after the attack, condemning it and showing appreciation to the Emir for coming, and offering their condolences to the Emir, the Crown Prince, and the families of the martyrs. The Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, visited the wounded and condemned the attack, saying, “This incident targets our internal front, our national unity. But this is too difficult for them and we are much stronger than that.” The country’s Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Yaqoub Al-Sanea, called the attack “a terrorist and criminal act that threatens our security and targets our national unity”. The Emir ordered re-construction of the mosque, although a few days before a Sunni business owner said his company is ready to do it for free.

– International reactions

  • United Nations – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the three attacks on Kuwait, Tunisia and France. He added: “those responsible for these appalling acts of violence must be swiftly brought to justice”. the UN Security Council, President of the UN General Assembly Sam Kutesa, and the UN High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Al-Nasir also condemned the attacks.

  • European Union – High Representative / Vice President Federica Mogherini condemned the attack, saying that the bombing, together with the attacks that occurred in France and Tunisia the same day were “stark reminder that no country and no region can ignore the challenge posed by terrorists. They aim at destabilising our societies by spreading fear, suspicion, prejudice. Both Europe and the Arab world are targeted. Together we cry for our victims – and together we will stand against violence and sectarianism.

  • Bahrain – King Hamad al-Khalifa condemned the attack and expressed his condolences to the relatives of the victims. Opposition party, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, also condemned the attacks. In a statement released on their website, they described the attack as “atrocious terror attack.”

  • Egypt – President Abdelfatah al-Sisi condemned the attack in a phone call with the Kuwaiti Emir. The Foreign Minister also condemned the three separate attacks that occurred on the same day, calling them “vile”.

  • Iran – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attack and sent condolences to the Emir. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham condemned the attacks.

  • Iraq – Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah received a phone call from his Iraqi counterpart condemning the attack.

  • Grand Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani condemned the attack, expanding deepest condolences to the families of the victims.

  • Jordan – State Minister for Media Affairs Muhammad al-Momani condemned the attack.

  • Lebanon – Prime Minister Tammam Salam strongly condemned the attack as a heinous plot against the national unity of Kuwait. A press release from his office read: “The attack against a mosque in the holy month of Ramadan adds a new example of the extent of barbarism of saboteurs and the seriousness of their destructive acts in our Arab region.” The Lebanese Islamic Resistance (Hizbullah) Leader Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah debouced the attacks on mosques in a video, and added that Kuwait’s and Kuwaitis’ reaction to the bombing as an Emir, Government, National Assembly (Parliament), political powers, Sunni and Shia scholars and ordinary people was a marvelous model, and he gave a salute to Kuwait. He then compared the situation with Bahrain’s, when the government tried to “benefit” from the threats.

  • Libya – The Foreign Ministry of the disputed government describing it as a “plan to plant sectarian sedition and deal a blow to national unity. This act stems from a veiled intention to implant sectarian sedition and strike the national unity between Sunnis and Shiites in Kuwait.”

  • Malaysia – Prime Minister Najib Razak condemn the attack and offered his condolences. On his statement in Facebook, he said “In the strongest terms, I condemn the heinous acts of terrorism on innocent civilians in France, Tunisia and Kuwait”. “These atrocities, which have caused injuries and claimed the lives of many in this holy month of Ramadan, are against the true teachings of Islam. My deepest condolences and Al-Fatihah”.

  • Oman – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the attack and all forms of violence and terrorism against innocent worshipers.

  • Pakistan – The Foreign Office strongly condemned the attack. “The people and the Government of Pakistan wish to convey their heartfelt sympathies and deepest condolences to the bereaved families and pray for speedy recovery of the injured. We share the grief of the brotherly people of the State of Kuwait over this cowardly attack against innocent civilians praying at a mosque during the Holy month of Ramadan.”

  • Saudi Arabia – Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah received a phone call from his Saudi counterpart condemning the attack.

  • United Kingdom – British Prime Minister David Cameron described the terrorist attacks as “savage” and “a brutal and tragic reminder of the threat faced around the world from these evil terrorists”

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