UK suspends Syria aid program after funds ‘paid to extremists’

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army take part in a battle against the Daesh terrorists in the northern Syrian village of Yahmoul in the Marj Dabiq area north of the embattled city of Aleppo on October 10, 2016. AFP
Updated 04 December 2017
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UK suspends Syria aid program after funds ‘paid to extremists’

LONDON: The British government has suspended a major aid program in Syria following an investigation by the BBC that revealed extremists had co-opted some of the funds.
The Foreign Office has been a major contributor to a $20 million project, Access to Justice and Community Security (AJACS), which supports community police work in Syria. But a BBC Panorama program set to air on Monday night shows how members of the British-funded Free Syrian Police (FSP) cooperated with unsanctioned courts accused of torture and executions.
Following the revelations, the Foreign Office halted its contribution to the AJACS initiative. “We are aware of serious allegations connected to this program and have suspended it upon further investigation,” the Foreign Office said in a statement issued on Sunday.
Documents leaked to the BBC reveal that at one point 20 percent of the cash distributions made to police officers in Aleppo province were being diverted to a group associated with a known terrorist, Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki. He has been linked to a range of atrocities during the Syria conflict, including the beheading of a young prisoner in 2016.
A report leaked to the BBC shows that Adam Smith International (ASI), the British company responsible for managing the AJACS program, was aware that police officers in the program had collaborated with Al-Zinki’s unsanctioned courts “by writing up warrants, delivering notices, and turning criminals over to the court.”
Two police officers receiving cash payments from the British-funded program were present when two women were stoned to death near Damascus in 2014, according to the leaked documents.
The AJACS program, established in 2014, was intended to support community policing in areas outside the Syrian regime’s control.
“These programs, also supported by international partners, are intended to make communities in Syria safer by providing basic civilian policing services,” said the Foreign Office.
Aside from alleged complicity with extra-judicial killings and torture, the BBC program shows how the AJACS program was allegedly mired by corruption and poor management. The BBC report said that ASI documents showed it was aware that fictitious policemen were on the program payroll.
According to the BBC investigation, extremists associated with Al-Qaeda had handpicked police officers to serve at AJACS-funded stations in Idlib province.
Adam Smith International insists that the BBC’s portrayal of the Syria program is “untrue or entirely misleading.”
The company, which receives millions pounds from British taxpayers to execute government-backed programs abroad, has landed in hot water before.
ASI has faced accusations that it used privileged information to win government contracts. Earlier this year, four executives stepped down from senior positions at the firm.


Iraq’s Mosul logs civil records lost to years of Daesh rule

Iraqis wait at the Nineveh governorate building in Iraq's second city of Mosul to resolve issues related to their identity documents. (AFP)
Updated 29 min 40 sec ago
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Iraq’s Mosul logs civil records lost to years of Daesh rule

  • During the Daesh’s reign, thousands of Iraqis who lived in areas controlled by Daesh virtually disappeared from state registers
  • When Iraqi forces retook the city and courts reopened, he and his wife rushed to sign a new marriage contract

MOSUL: When Shahed was born in 2015 her father tried to notify Iraq’s civil registry. The problem was, their city of Mosul was held by Daesh group and the office had been shut.

Three years later, 39-year-old Ahmed Aziz has yet to officially register his daughter’s birth, the certificate for which bears the seal of the so-called caliphate.
Under the late summer sun, the taxi driver braves a long queue outside Mosul’s reopened civil registry, hoping that by the end of the day Shahed’s name will finally appear in state records.
The little girl was born just a year after Daesh swept across the country, seizing swathes of territory including Iraq’s second city Mosul.
“The civil registry was closed,” said Aziz, holding the IS-stamped document issued by a hospital in Mosul.
But since Iraqi forces ultimately regained control of the city in July 2017 after a bloody months-long campaign, residents have flooded the city’s reopened offices.
Thousands of children like Shahed had been born under Daesh rule, and the extremists had systematically blown up civil offices and archives.
“I saw this massive rush to get to the public offices, so I preferred to wait a bit before going there too,” said Aziz.
As a result, his daughter does not yet officially exist.
During the Daesh’s reign, thousands of Iraqis who lived in areas controlled by Daesh virtually disappeared from state registers.
Some lost their identity documents as neighborhoods turned into battle zones, others as they fled the violence.
Many of those who remained were given documents from Daesh’s proto-state — ministries and courts created by the jihadists to register births, marriages, deaths and trade agreements alike.
None of that paperwork has been recognized by Iraqi authorities.
When Zein Mohammed got married in 2014, he and his soon-to-be wife had to present themselves at an IS court to seal the deal.
What should have been the best day of the now 29-year-old civil servant’s life was instead a test.
“I appeared in front of the judge with my fiancee — she was covered head-to-toe in black,” he told AFP.
Under Daesh rule, Mosul’s residents were forced to bow to the jihadists ultra-conservative demands.
Women were compelled to fully cover themselves in black veils and long robes, and civil cases were heard by courts that dealt out death sentences and corporal punishment for “sins..”
“The judge issued us a marriage certificate bearing the IS seal,” said Mohammed.
When Iraqi forces retook the city and courts reopened, he and his wife rushed to sign a new marriage contract.
Now, packed in among the crowd outside Mosul’s civil registry, Mohammed is hoping to finally regularize their marital status.
Iraqi civil servants are working around the clock to meet the massive demand, compiling files, verifying identities and registering official documents and certificates.
It is a titanic job, often slowed due to additional safeguards imposed by Iraqi security services in the former IS stronghold.
To weed out fake IDs and spot jihadists seeking to slip through the cracks, “intelligence services check each document,” head of Mosul’s registry office General Hussein Mohammed Ali told AFP.
But the added security measures have not hampered progress.
“More than a million certified documents and more than 2,000 passports have already been issued,” he said.
Mustafa Thamer, a 23-year-old student, is applying for his first passport even though he has no plans to travel soon.
“We say we must have a passport so that we can leave whenever we want,” he told AFP.
“We lived under IS occupation and we no longer trust the future of the city,” he said.
“Anything can happen in Mosul.”