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Somali militants seize, burn aid food

A member of Al Shabab burned bags of wheat bearing the US flag and the USAID stamp yesterday in Mogadishu, Somalia. A member of Al Shabab burned bags of wheat bearing the US flag and the USAID stamp yesterday in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Mohamed Olad Hassan/Associated Press)
Associated Press / August 21, 2010

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — Islamist fighters said yesterday that they seized food from the World Food Program from markets in Mogadishu and burned more than 500 bags of maize and wheat.

Sheik Ali Mohamed Hussein, an official with Al Shabab — Somalia’s most powerful militant group — said the expiration dates on the food had expired, but a spokesman for the food program said the agency does not distribute expired food.

Photos of the burning showed white bags of wheat bearing an American flag and the stamp USAID — the US government’s aid arm. Other bags were stamped World Food Program. One photo showed what appeared to be old, clumpy maize.

Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for WFP, said he was checking on reports of the food burning and couldn’t immediately comment. Matt Goshko, a spokesman for the Somali team at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, said, “The burning of food aid shows Al Shabab’s callous disregard for the plight of the Somali people.’’

Al Shabab, a Somali group with links to Al Qaeda, has threatened that Somalis who sell or carry WFP distributed food will be punished. Earlier this week, militants confiscated several thousand sacks of food from traders in central Somalia after alleging that it was from WFP.

Merchants were upset with Al Shabab for seizing the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 sacks of food.

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