UK halts Syrian rebel police funding over extremism claims

The Sun

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LONDON: Britain suspended a foreign aid scheme to fund policing in rebel-held areas of Syria worth millions on Monday, following allegations the money had ended up with extremists or been misappropriated.

The claims about the Access to Justice and Community Security Project, run by contractor Adam Smith International, are being aired in a BBC Panorama investigation on Monday called "Jihadis You Pay For".

"The Foreign Office has suspended this programme while we investigate these allegations," a foreign ministry spokesman said, adding that such work was nonetheless important "to protect our national security".

"We take any allegations of co-operation with terrorist groups and of human rights abuses extremely seriously," he said, pointing out that "in such a challenging environment no activity is without risk".

The scheme, funded by Britain and five other countries, has reportedly been running since 2014, with the aim of establishing a civilian Free Syrian Police force in rebel-held parts of the country.

The Panorama report said the police were co-operating with courts to carry out summary executions, and were receiving money in cash which they were then forced to hand over to Nureddin al-Zinki, a rebel group in control of the area in Aleppo province.

It also claimed that police officers were being handpicked by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and that there were dead and fictitious people on the police payroll.

A spokesman for Adam Smith International told the BBC it "strongly refutes Panorama's allegations".

"We have managed taxpayers' money effectively to confront terrorism, bring security to Syrian communities and mitigate the considerable risks of operating in a war zone," the spokesman said.

The Times newspaper reported that Western staff working on the project were billing up to £850 (RM4,656) a day, even though they were not allowed into Syria itself because of the dangers and were instead based in Turkey.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced earlier this year that Britain was committing an extra £4 million for the Free Syrian Police project. — AFP