Jamal Osman

November 1, 2011

Al-Qaida operatives are moving into the humanitarian vacuum in Somalia, distributing aid and cash to drought victims in an attempt to win hearts and minds, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

On a visit to the sprawling Ala-yasir camp in the south of the troubled state, the Guardian saw an al-Qaida unit handing out rice, flour, oil, dates and milk as well as Islamic books and clothes to some of the more than 4,000 people made destitute by this year’s drought.

This was the first time the group has spoken publicly in Somalia, and the first time it has distributed aid. The unit’s leader was introduced as al-Qaida’s official envoy to Somalia.

Al-Shabaab, the militant Islamist group trying to seize power in the country, called him Abu Abdullah Muhajir, and said he was a white American. It was impossible to verify his identity or nationality.

A number of US citizens are thought to have joined al-Shabaab in Somalia, including a suicide bomber who attacked African Union troops in Mogadishu on Sunday.

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