Despite alleged war crimes, including torture and assassinations, a Somali citizen has been working as a security guard at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- An alleged Somali war criminal who fled to the United States has been working in plain sight as a security guard at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
Yusuf Abdi Ali, who is accused of committing atrocities while he was a military commander during Somalia's civil war in the 1980s, has been living near the nation's capital for about 20 years. He was uncovered by a CNN investigation.
Ali, 63, served as a commander in the brutal Mohamed Siad Barre regime, which took over Somalia after a coup in 1969, and terrorized the dominant Isaaq clan, according to human rights experts.
It is alleged that clan members were tortured, villages destroyed, and mass executions carried out.
Several Isaaq villagers described these atrocities in a documentary that aired on the CBC, Canada's public television station, in 1992. One witness said Ali captured and killed a family member.
"He tied [my brother] to military vehicle and dragged him behind. He said to us if you've got enough power, get him back," the villager said. "He shredded him into pieces. That's how he died."
After the Barre military regime collapsed in 1991, Ali moved to Canada. But he was deported two years later after news about his alleged war crimes in Somalia became public through the CBC documentary.
He then entered the United States on a visa through his Somali wife, Intisar Farah, who became a U.S. citizen. In 2006, she was found guilty of naturalization fraud for claiming she was a refugee from the same Somali clan that Ali is accused of torturing.
In recent years, Ali has been living a quiet life in suburbia, sharing an apartment in Alexandria, Va., with his wife.
Since CNN's investigation, he has been placed on administrative leave from his job as a security guard, which he has held for two years. His airport access has also been withdrawn.
Ali's employer Master Security has a contract with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to provide unarmed security services. Ali is said to have passed a "full, federally mandated vetting process" that included an FBI background check and a TSA assessment.
However, Master Security was "unaware" that a lawsuit was pending against Ali, until informed by CNN, said the company's chief executive, Rick Cucina.
Despite his background, Ali was not viewed as a security threat by the Transportation Security Administration.
Gillian Christensen, the deputy press secretary for Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, told ABC News: "With respect to the individual's employment at Dulles International Airport, TSA conducted standard security vetting procedures, which are focused on potential threats to national security.
"TSA provided the full results of its security screening to the Airport Authority who is ultimately responsible for issuing a badge for security contract work. Based on the results of the security screening, he did not meet the criteria for denial of his application."
Ali is named as a defendant in a lawsuit that is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Originally filed in 2006 by a human rights group, the Center for Justice and Accountability, it states that Ali is a "war criminal" who committed "crimes against humanity."
A Somali national, who is bringing the lawsuit, said that in 1987 at Ali's direction, he was beaten, kicked, stripped naked and shot because Ali believed he was a supporter of an opposition group that had recently stolen a water tanker. Ali himself repeatedly shot the man and left him for dead, the suit says, and asked his guards to dispose of the body.
"Ali oversaw some of the most incredible violence that you can imagine," said Kathy Roberts, an attorney for the Center for Justice and Accountability, which is leading the civil suit. "He tortured people personally; he oversaw torture.
"He arrested people, stole their stuff, burned villages, executed masses of people. At one point he had a school come out to view an execution."
Ali denies all accusations in the lawsuit. When approached by CNN, he told correspondent Kyra Phillips: "To tell you the truth, all is false. Baseless."
His lawyer, Joseph Peter Drennan, told CNN: "How dare anyone call him a war criminal. Those are just allegations. If he is indeed a war criminal, take him to The Hague. Or if he is a war criminal, take it up with the immigration authorities. Don't sue him in an American court... My client deserves to live in the U.S. just as any other legal permanent resident."
The lawsuit could become a landmark case in the U.S. legal system if the Supreme Court agrees to hear it. Until now, foreigners living in America could not be held accountable for war crimes committed overseas.
No criminal court in the world has jurisdiction to try Ali for war crimes.The International Criminal Court in the Hague wasn't established until 1994, and didn't issue its first arrest warrants until a decade later.
Somalia doesn't have a justice system set up for war crime trials. And the United States has no jurisdiction over the events that played out in Somalia in the 1980s. Indeed, the Siad Barre government was allied with the United States, and U.S. officials considered many military soldiers and commanders, including Ali, to be fighting for U.S. interests.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials wouldn't comment on Ali's case, but they did confirm that he was known to the agency.
In a statement, ICE wrote: "Yusuf Ali came to the attention of investigators and attorneys within the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, ICE's legacy agency, based upon allegations that he had been involved in human rights violations."
However, ICE officials would not clarify why Ali has been allowed to remain in the United States.
His presence in this country is far from unique. It's estimated that more than 1,000 accused war criminals are living and working in the United States, having fled from countries such as Chile and El Salvador. Some are wanted in their homelands, with outstanding extradition requests against them.
"It fundamentally violates what we could call American values," said Kathy Roberts, a lawyer with the Center for Justice and Accountability. "But I really would rather say human values -- to allow people like this to get off scot-free, and to allow them to benefit from the rule of law that they deprived their victims of, and they need to be held accountable."