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Al Qaeda’s philanthropic moves

Al Qaeda is not known for its philanthropic activities, but this weekend in Somalia the terrorist group appears to have branched into a new business: distributing humanitarian aid.

world Updated: Oct 18, 2011 00:27 IST
Jeffrey Gettleman

Al Qaeda is not known for its philanthropic activities, but this weekend in Somalia the terrorist group appears to have branched into a new business: distributing humanitarian aid.

In a surreal scene, a man with a scarf twisted over his face stood in the middle of a camp full of starving people and announced that he had come to Somalia on behalf of Ayman al-Zawahri, Qaeda’s leader, and that Qaeda was eager to help famine victims.

“Our beloved brothers and sisters in Somalia, we are following your situation on a daily basis,” said the man, identified as Abu Abdulla Almuhajir.

According to witnesses and photographs from the event, he was surrounded by masked gunmen wearing clean, white vests like aid workers. Almuhajir presided over mounds of donated grain, in sacks marked “Qaeda campaign on behalf of Bin Laden. Charity for those affected by the drought.”

Stranger still, Almuhajir’s skin was white and he spoke perfect English. He said “brothers in Qaeda” had brought grain, powdered milk and dates for the victims and Zawahri had sent with a message of sympathy for Somalia. “Though we are separated by thousands of kilometers, you are consistently in our thoughts and prayers,” he told the Somalis gathered around him on Friday, and witnesses said a similar scene unfolded on Saturday.