Under Threat, US-Based NGO Gave Food Kits to al Qaeda-Linked Group

 Syrian locals come together to deliver food to those in need during a food aid event in Raqqah, Syria, Feb. 27, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Jones / Courtesy DVIDS)

Syrian locals come together to deliver food to those in need during a food aid event in Raqqah, Syria, Feb. 27, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Jones / Courtesy DVIDS)

Before they were officially declared terrorists by the U.S. government, an al Qaeda-linked group forced an unidentified U.S.-based aid organization to secretly hand over "food kits" meant for struggling Syrian civilians, leading the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to withhold tens of millions of dollars in backing for the food program until the situation is sorted out.

"Under duress of being threatened by members of HTS [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham], employees allowed HTS fighters to be included among program beneficiaries in the Idlib Governorate and submitted falsified beneficiary lists to USAID to conceal the fighters' participation in the food assistance program," USAID's Office of Inspector General wrote in a report to Congress, which was published online (PDF) last month. "USAID suspended the $44.6 million program, which delayed approximately $30.2 million in funding until appropriate controls are implemented."

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Though HTS has long been associated with al-Nusrah Front, more or less al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, it was not officially designated a terrorist organization until May 31, when the U.S. State Department amended the designation of al-Nusrah to include HTS. The department alleged that al-Nusrah created the group and continued to "operate through" it. (At the time of the report to Congress, USAID's OIG referred to HTS as a "militant" group.)

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The Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, said in the announcement that the designation "serves notice that the United States is not fooled by this al-Qa’ida affiliate’s attempt to rebrand itself. Whatever name Nusrah chooses, we will continue to deny it the resources it seeks to further its violent cause.”

A spokesperson for USAID declined to respond to questions from Code and Dagger.

Primary Source: USAID OIG Report to Congress (PDF, relevant section p. 31)

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