More details of a confidential United Nations report on Somalia that accuses the U.N.'s World Food Program of unwittingly diverting food aid to Islamist extremists and criminals have surfaced. This time, the World Food Program and the U.N.'s children's agency, UNICEF, are accused of working with a shady Somali businessman with close ties to al-Qaida-linked militants in the southwestern town of Baidoa.
A section of the U.N. Monitoring Group's 74-page report on Somalia alleges that the Somali businessman, identified as Abdullah Ali "Luway," has been using his position as a contractor for the World Food Program and UNICEF to enrich himself and al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab Islamists in Baidoa.
Abdullah Ali is described as a prominent businessman, who rents vehicles to both U.N. agencies in Baidoa and receives $3,000 every month from UNICEF as payment for the use of a building that formerly housed Somalia's transitional parliament.
According to the U.N. report, Ali is also the local financier of the al-Shabab, listed as a terrorist organization by several western countries, including the United States. Ali is said to be a close associate of al-Shabab leader Muktar Robow Abu Mansour and is suspected of helping al-Shabab loot the U.N. compound in Baidoa last July.
UNICEF officials say they have not seen the report, but will investigate the issue after they have had a chance to study it. The World Food Program says it, too, is investigating the allegations against Ali.
In what the authors of the U.N. report called a "case study" in how U.N. agencies are unwittingly working with criminals in Somalia, Ali is alleged to have received more than $1.3 million in ransom last October for the release of three French aid workers with the humanitarian group Action Against Hunger who had been kidnapped by gunmen in July 2009.
World Food Program's spokesman, Peter Smerdon acknowledged that Ali worked with the U.N. food agency in 2008 and 2009, and there have been rumors as to what Ali's role may have been in the kidnapping of the international aid workers.
But Smerdon says last July's kidnapping incident took place in the Kenyan town of Mandera and there were no French nationals among the hostages.
"Action Against Hunger aid workers from Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and the United States were seized from the northeastern town of Mandera in July 2009 and released in October. The Monitoring Group seems to have confused this with another kidnapping - which was of two French, a Bulgarian, and a Belgian working for Action Against Hunger - in Dhusamareb in 2008," he said.
Smerdon says while the World Food Program is deeply concerned that one of its Somali contractors has been identified as a criminal with extremist ties, inaccuracies in the report raise questions about the thoroughness of the research.
The World Food Program has contested what it said were inaccuracies in the report about the agency's operational record and spending in Somalia. The U.N. report alleges that as much as half of the food aid in Somalia is being diverted to a network of contractors and local U.N. staff members, and Islamist militants.
The Monitoring Group is urging U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launch an independent investigation into the World Food Program's operation in Somalia. The U.N. food agency says it ready to cooperate with any investigation.
The Security Council is expected to discuss the report next week.