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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
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.

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