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U.S. Seizures of Somali Businesses in U.S. and Abroad Threatens to Devastate One of World'spoorest Countries

December 04, 2001

This weekend War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left open the possibility that Somalia could be a military target as theU.S. seeks to expend its so-called war on terrorism.

Rumsfeld said ``Somalia has been a place that has harbored al-Qaida and, to my knowledge, still is."

The warnings by Rumsfeld and President Bush have caused intense anxiety among allies from Britain to Egypt, who havewarned of an intense backlash if the U.S. widens the scope of its military action.

In many ways, however, the U.S. has already begun to target Somalia, one of the few countries that matchesAfghanistan in the depth of its poverty and suffering.

Since early November, federal authorities have sought to close Somali businesses abroad and have raided locally ownedSomali businesses and US branches of Somali financial institutions such as Barakaat Enterprise.

Barakaat operates what are known as Hawalas, basically low-budget Western Union operations often tucked into the backof Somali grocery stores. The Hawalas are virtually the only means for thousands of Somali refugees and immigrantsliving in the U.S. to send money back home. Millions of Somalis are utterly dependent on the Hawalas for theirsurvival.

U.S. officials have accused Barakaat and other Somali businesses of funneling millions of dollars to Osama binLaden’s al-Qaida network.

But U.S. actions, according to UN officials and Somali activists, are having a devastating impact on what is alreadyone of the world’s poorest countries, and compounding the suffering of its most vulnerable citizens.


  • Asha Samad, Professor of African and Caribbean Studies at City College of New York and the ExecutiveDirector of the Somali Association for Relief and Development.
  • Randolph Kent, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

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