Taxpayers’ cash ‘diverted to extremists’ in Syria

The government has suspended a foreign aid project after a BBC Panorama investigation found taxpayers’ cash was being diverted to extremists in Syria.

A UK government spokesman said it takes allegations of cooperation with terrorist groups ‘extremely seriously’.

Officers from a UK-backed police force in Syria have also been working with courts carrying out brutal sentences, the investigation found.

Adam Smith International (ASI), in charge of the project, said it strongly denies the allegations.

The Free Syrian Police (FSP) was set up following the uprise in Syria to bring law and order to parts of the country that were controlled by opposition forces. The project has been run by Adam Smith International since October 2014.

The project, which provides community policing to the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa provinces, is funded by six donor countries, including Britain.

It is meant to be an unarmed civilian police force, and not cooperate with extremist groups, but Panorama found examples where that was not the case.

In its investigation, Panorama found: police cooperating with courts that carry out summary executions, including a case where two women were stoned to death; police being paid in cash and then being forced to hand over funds to an extremist group controlling the area; police officers being handpicked by an extremist group; and dead and fictions people on the police payroll.

ASI says the FSP is an unarmed community police force that brings the rule of law and safety to millions of people in a war-torn country.

The company says it uses cash to fund the police because there is no practical alternative, and the British government is aware of this.

Panorama has obtained ASI documents that show dead and fictions people were on the police payroll.

An ASI spokesperson 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.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We take any allegations of co-operation with terrorist groups and of human rights abuses extremely seriously and the Foreign Office has suspended this programme while we investigate these allegations.

"We believe that such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest but of course we reach this judgment carefully given that in such a challenging environment no activity is without risk.

"That's why all our programmes are designed carefully and subject to robust monitoring.”

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