KUWAIT CITY - Staunch US ally Kuwait uncovered a cell in its army that was plotting to attack American and other foreign forces in the emirate, the defence minister said, amid suspicions the group could be linked to Al-Qaeda.
"It was the coalition forces and certainly the American army targetted because it is the largest," Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah told AFP.
"The number of those (still) arrested are two to three people," he said, a day after Kuwait announced it was questioning an undisclosed number of soldiers planning to attack "friendly forces" in the country.
Kuwaiti authorities are investigating "suspicions" that the soldiers could be linked to Al-Qaeda, the minister said, declining at this stage to associate the suspects with the terror network.
"As long as it is under investigation, we cannot say this. No, I don't say Al-Qaeda (for sure) as long as there is an interrogation going on," the minister said when asked if the group had links to Al-Qaeda.
Al-Siyassa newspaper, quoting "well-informed sources", reported Tuesday that the arrested soldiers "include a number of officers ... and they belong ideologically to the Al-Qaeda organisation."
US forces and civilians in Kuwait, which served as the main launchpad for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, have been the target of a number of brazen attacks, two of them fatal.
A US Marine was killed and another wounded in an attack by two Kuwaiti gunmen on Failaka island, east of the capital, in October 2002. The two assailants were subsequently killed.
Two US soldiers travelling on a highway south of Kuwait City in a civilian vehicle the following November were wounded when a Kuwaiti policeman shot them at point blank range.
A Kuwaiti has been sentenced to life in prison for killing an American civilian contractor and wounding another in a highway ambush in January 2003 near a US army camp north of Kuwait City.
Four US soldiers were slightly wounded when shots were fired at their vehicles in December 2003. The assailant was arrested.
Twenty-two members of a group accused of recruiting fighters for Iraq are currently on trial in Kuwait.
Around 25,000 US soldiers are stationed in Kuwait. But the emirate is also the main transit point for the coalition forces travelling to and from Iraq.
British, Polish, Japanese, Hungarian and South Korean soldiers are among coalition troops who are based in desert camps in Kuwait for as long as a week on their way into and out of Iraq.
A Kuwaiti security source told AFP Monday that the soldiers' arrests followed the extradition from Syria of a Kuwaiti who was heading for Iraq to fight American forces there.
Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper claimed the group was planning to attack US forces during the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast around January 21.
Quoting security sources, it said members of the group had links with former servicemen who fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya and were dismissed from the Kuwaiti army.
In a December 16 audiotape, a voice attributed to terror chief Osama bin Laden called on his fighters to strike oil installations in the Gulf, as well as Iraq.
Kuwait on Friday raised its state of alert almost to the maximum, boosting security around the country in the biggest show of force since the US-led Iraq war in March 2003.
Armoured vehicles, with mounted machine guns, and heavily armed security units stood guard at almost every government building, key installations and potential Western targets.
The US embassy warned December 15 it had "credible information that terrorist groups" were preparing to carry out attacks in the emirate in the near future.
© Copyright 2005 AFP