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US funds for Somalia could be diverted to Shabaab, watchdog warns

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The State Department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that US funding for the Somali government is not diverted to Al-Shabaab terror group, the department’s watchdog unit warned on Monday.

“The bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying, assessing and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programmes in countries where terrorist organisations, such as Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, operate,” the State Department’s Office of Inspector General said.

In a 34-page report assessing the bureau’s foreign assistance management, a team of inspectors cited the example of $66 million paid as cash stipends to members of the Somali National Army during the past seven years.

AL-SHABAAB

Inadequate oversight of that assistance could enable Al-Shabaab to siphon off some of that money intended for 6,509 Somali government soldiers, the report suggested.

In addition, inspectors found that the Africa Bureau continued paying the soldiers’ stipends while failing to comply with a US law that prohibits State Department assistance to foreign military units that have not been screened for human rights violations.

That lapsed compliance with the so-called Leahy Law spanned several months in 2014 and again in a period spanning 2016 and 2017, the report said.

VETTING

“Furnishing security assistance without conducting Leahy vetting raises the risk that funds could be provided to individuals who have committed gross violations of human rights or are otherwise ineligible for assistance,” the report stated.

The law in question — named for its primary author, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy — requires the US State Department and Pentagon to determine whether potential aid recipients carry out extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and rapes.

The State Department’s own worldwide report on human rights found in 2016 that Somali government forces abused civilians. Somali authorities “generally did not investigate abuse by police, army or militia members,” the 2016 evaluation added. “A culture of impunity was widespread.”

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New York truck attack: Investigators scour driver’s background

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New York – Investigators worked through the night to determine what led a truck driver to plow down people on a riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center, brandishing air guns and yelling “God is great” in Arabic as his deadly route of terror ended with a crash, authorities said.

Eight people were killed and 11 seriously injured in a Halloween afternoon attack that the mayor called “a particularly cowardly act of terror”.

The driver – identified by officials as an immigrant from Uzbekistan – was in critical condition but expected to survive after a police officer shot him in the abdomen. A roughly 3km stretch of highway in downtown Manhattan was shut down for the investigation.

Authorities also converged on a New Jersey home and a van in a parking lot at a New Jersey Home Depot store. Authorities were scrutinising a note found inside the attacker’s rented truck, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Police and the FBI urged members of the public to give them any photos or video that could help. The attack echoed a strategy that the Islamic State (ISIS) group has been suggesting to its followers. While police didn’t specifically blame any group for the strike, President Donald Trump railed against ISIS and declared “enough!” and “NOT IN THE U.S.A.!”

The victims reflected a city that is a melting pot and a magnet for visitors: One of the dead was from Belgium. Five were from Argentina and were celebrating the 30th anniversary of a school graduation, according to officials in those countries. The injured included students and staffers on a school bus that the driver rammed.

“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

‘He did not seem like a terrorist’

Officials who were not authorised to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity identified the slight, bearded attacker as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the US legally in 2010. He has a Florida driver’s licence but may have been staying in New Jersey, they said.

Records show Saipov was a commercial truck driver who formed a pair of businesses in Ohio. He had also driven for Uber, the ride-hailing company said. An Ohio marriage licence shows that a truck driver with one of Saipov’s addresses and his name, spelled slightly differently, married a fellow Uzbek in 2013.

During his time in Fort Myers, Florida, several years ago, Saipov was “a very good person”, an acquaintance, Kobiljon Matkarov, told The New York Times.

“He liked the US. He seemed very lucky, and all the time, he was happy and talking like everything is OK. He did not seem like a terrorist, but I did not know him from the inside,” Matkarov said. He said Saipov later moved to New Jersey and began driving for Uber. San Francisco-based Uber said he started over six months ago.

Police said the attacker rented the truck at about 14:00 at a New Jersey Home Depot and then went into New York City, entering the bike path about an hour later and speeding toward the World Trade Center, the site of the deadliest terror attack in US history.

He barrelled along the bike path in the truck for the equivalent of about 14 blocks, or around eight-tenths of a mile, before slamming into a small yellow school bus.

“A person hopped out of the car with two guns and started yelling and screaming,” said a 12-year-old student who had just left a nearby school. “They were yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’.”

‘I saw a lot of blood’

The student, whose mother asked that his name be withheld, said he ran back into the school, where students cried and huddled in a corner.

Video shot by bystanders showed Saipov walking through traffic wielding what looked like two handguns, but which police later said were a paintball gun and a pellet gun. A police officer shot Saipov when he wouldn’t drop the weapons, police said.

The mayhem set off panic in the neighbourhood and left the pavement strewn with mangled bicycles and bodies that were soon covered with sheets.

“I saw a lot of blood over there. A lot of people on the ground,” said Chen Yi, an Uber driver.

The note inside the truck was handwritten in a foreign language, according to one of the two law enforcement officials who spoke about the document. Both said its contents were being investigated but supported the belief the act was terrorism.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called Tuesday’s carnage a “lone wolf” attack and said there was no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot.

New York and other cities around the globe have been on high alert against attacks by extremists in vehicles. England, France and Germany have seen deadly vehicle attacks in the past year or so.

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Secretary-General condemns Saturday’s attacks in Mogadishu; commend responders

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15 October 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today commended the first responders and residents of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, for mobilizing to aid in what is being called Somalia’s worst-ever bomb attack.

In a statement from his spokesperson, the Secretary-General urged all Somalis “to unite in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and work together in building a functional and inclusive federal state.”

Strongly condemning the attacks, he conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families, as well as his wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured.

According to media reports, at least 200 people were killed and an even greater number of people were injured.

The Secretary-Generals Special Representative in Somalia, Michael Keating today said that the UN and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) were working closely to support the response by the Federal Government of Somalia and local government authorities, including the provision of logistical support, medical supplies and expertise in the aftermath of the bombings.

“It is a revolting attack both in terms of its intent and impact,” the Special Representative said.

The Special Representative said that the immediate priority is to support efforts led by the authorities to recover from the attack and help all those affected, especially the injured and newly homeless.

“The international community will do everything possible to help the people and government of Somalia to overcome this tragedy,” he said.

According to media reports, a massive car bomb detonated outside the entrance to a hotel in the city’s K5 junction, which is home to government offices, hotels and restaurants.

Later in the day, a second bombing was reported in the city’s Madina district.

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Death toll from blast in Somalia’s capital rises to more than 230

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VOA — The death toll from Saturday’s massive truck bombing in the Somali capital Mogadishu has risen to more than 230, the deputy speaker of Somalia’s upper house of parliament Abshir Mohamed Ahmed tells VOA.

More than 200 people were wounded in the blast, including a VOA reporter.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo said the country “will observe three days of mourning for innocent victims and flags will be flown at half-mast.”

Farmaajo also called on citizens to unite against terror, saying it is “time to unite and pray together. Terror won’t win.”

Earlier Saturday, the blast occurred near Zobe, a busy intersection in Somalia’s capital.

Dead, injured

Abdulkaidr Mohamed Abdulle, a VOA Somali correspondent in Mogadishu, was among the injured. His wife, Samira Abdirahman Sheikh Adam, confirmed to VOA that he had sustained injuries to his neck, head and right hand.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but similar attacks have been carried out by the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab. The group, which is linked to al-Qaida, is trying to overthrow the government in an effort to establish strict Islamic rule.

The United States and the United Nations strongly condemned Saturday’s blast and offered condolence to the lives lost and those wounded in the attack.

Buildings leveled

Buildings around the area were leveled by the explosion from a truck bomb, and dozens of destroyed cars littered the streets.

Health officials said Saturday’s bombing was the largest blast in recent memory in Mogadishu. They also called for residents to donate blood to help with the wounded.

“For 10 years, I have been in the emergency service. … I cannot tell the exact death toll, but together I can say we have transported hundreds of people on our 10 ambulances,” said Dr. Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adem, director of the Amin ambulance service. “And economically, I think this is the worst (bombing) ever in Mogadishu in a single day.”

Government soldiers had cordoned off the area, and officials said the death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers find bodies in the rubble.

Most of the victims were civilians. The exact target of the blast remains unclear, though there are several hotels frequented by government officials and members of various diaspora communities.

“This is a disaster. We ask all Somalis to reach us, to help us in the search of dead bodies under the debris. We appeal to the doctors, to those who have digging machines,” Mogadishu Mayor Tabid Abdi Mohamed said on government radio.

Al-Shabab

Saturday’s blast came hours after al-Shabab militants regained control of Barire, a strategic Somalian town in a farming area along the Shabelle river, 45 kilometers from Mogadishu.

The explosion also comes two days after Somalia’s defense minister and military chief, who were leading the fight against Islamist militants, both resigned from the government, citing personal reasons.

Some analysts believe militants tend to carry out such attacks when there are security lapses.

“The resignation of the country’s defense and military chiefs gave the militants a gab [opening] to carry out such disastrous attack,” said Mogadishu University’s Dr. Abdul Kadir Liban Isse.

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