British foreign aid project suspended for ‘funding extremism in Syria’
A British foreign aid project in Syria has been suspended after it was reportedly found to be funnelling cash to an extremist group.
According to a BBC Panorama investigation, the Free Syrian Police, which receives funding from UK taxpayers, has passed money on to the extremist al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.
The investigation also found that the group had dead and fictitious people on its payroll and that police officers were being handpicked by the extremists,
The Free Syria Police was set up as unarmed civilian police force during the Syrian civil war to bring peace to the region.
It has been run by British company Adam Smith International since October 2014 and receives foreign aid cash through the access to Justice and Community Security.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced in April that the UK would commit a further £4m to the scheme.
But last night the Foreign Office said it had suspended all funding while it investigated the BBC’s claims.
Conservative MP and former chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt said: “You’ve got people being sentenced to death for homosexuality. Clearly that is completely and utterly unacceptable.”
However, Adam Smith International said it "strongly refutes Panorama's allegations".
An ASI spokesman said: "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.
"ASI has managed the project successfully alongside our partner in an extremely challenging, high-risk environment under the close supervision of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and five other governments."
Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor said: "Spent properly, Britain's aid budget achieves incredible results and we must not shy away from working in conflict-affected countries. But if these allegations are true, British taxpayers will be rightly outraged.
"We need to understand how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office allowed this to happen, and why their mechanisms for properly managing aid projects failed. The opaque Conflict, Stability and Security Fund that financed this project also operates in 70 other countries - many with questionable human rights records.
"This investigation is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg: the Government must now open up its books so the public can understand the true extent of the problem."
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