WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Restrictions on working with terrorist group al-Shabaab are eased so relief workers can help those in need in drought-stricken Somalia, a U.S. official said.
A drought expected to last much of the year prompted humanitarian aid agencies to warn of a disaster unfolding in the Horn of Africa.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohammed Rage announced in July that aid agencies would be allowed in the country provided they had "no hidden agenda" in Somalia. He was quoted more recently by the BBC as telling journalists in Mogadishu that many agencies were still banned in the country, however.
U.S. President Barack Obama early this year issued an executive order describing an "unusual and extraordinary" threat to U.S. national and foreign policy interests emanating from Somalia.
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the U.S. government was, however, allowing greater flexibility for aid groups to get assistance into parts of Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab.
U.S. lawmakers have testified that the spate of arrests of U.S. nationals tied to the terrorist group meant it could be plotting with its al-Qaida allies to attack the United States.
Nevertheless, Toner said that, given the severity of the humanitarian situation in Somalia, "we're not going to uphold some of the legal constraints" for working in areas controlled by al-Shabaab.