A man claiming to be from al-Qaeda has distributed aid in Somalia, highlighting the group’s links with al-Shabab militants.
The man identified as US citizen Abu Abdulla Almuhajir and speaking with an American accent handed out food, hijabs and Korans to people at a refugee camp near the capital, Mogadishu.
It is thought to be al-Qaeda’s first aid distribution in famine-hit Somalia.
It says some international agencies have a political agenda and have exaggerated the scale of the problems.
Some al-Shabab-controlled regions have been declared famine zones, because so many people are suffering severe malnutrition.
Mr Almuhajir was accompanied by al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, who said they were distributing food such as flour, rice, cooking oil, dates and milk to 4,000 people in the Ala-yasir camp, some 50km (30 miles) south-west of Mogadishu.
The UN says that some 750,000 people face starvation in Somalia.
They also said they were distributing $17,000 (£11,000) in cash and a fully-equipped ambulance.
BBC Somali service head Yusuf Garaad Omar says al-Shabab has not previously hidden its association with al-Qaeda but this public aid distribution makes the links far more explicit.
The UN-backed government, which controls most of Mogadishu but little other territory, says hundreds of foreign fighters are helping al-Shabab in the country.
Mr Almuhajir said he had gone to Somalia with a message from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“We would like to take this opportunity to encourage Muslims around the world to come to the assistance of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Somalia,” he said.
On Thursday, two Spanish aid workers with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped by armed men from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where almost half a million Somalis have fled, seeking assistance.
It is feared that they may have been taken into Somalia.
Al-Shabab has reportedly denied any links to the abduction, which has led aid agencies to scale back their operation in Dadaab.
Eritrea Cabinet Approves Aid to Somalia (VOA)
An official says Eritrea’s Cabinet has approved a food aid package to Somalis affected by drought and famine. Some skeptics have questioned the timing as well as the size of the approved aid.
But Information Minister Ali Abdu says “it not about how much [aid] you give, it’s about how much love you give with what you give.”
“We are doing this with deep affection… because we stand along our Somali brothers and sisters [to] the bitter end,” said Abdu.
Experts say the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought over a decade. The United Nations says more than 12 million people in the region are in urgent need of food aid. In Somalia, where the situation is the most serious, the U.N. says more than 3.2 million people are estimated to be on the brink of starvation.
Abdu said Asmara will continue to support efforts to help stabilize Somalia.
“We have been supporting the Somali people to [gain] their sovereignty and [to reinstitute] public and government institutions, the territorial integrity of Somalia,” said Abdu. “This is something that we have been striving for the last 20 years [and] we have been consistent. And now, it is proven that our approach is the best approach.”
Asmara has often stated that foreign intervention and “pointing fingers ” would not resolve the situation in Somalia.
“Why should people opt to exhaust all the wrong procedures before they embark upon the right one ?‘’ asked Ali Abdu adding that “if a fire is set ablaze somewhere, like what we see happening in Somalia, first and foremost people should try to extinguish it before arguing how it was ignited in the first place… whether it was with a match or a lighter.”
He further added that “There should be political dialogue among Somali people including in Somaliland and Puntland and other entities of Somalia,” said Abdu. “The world should realize that the only way is to leave Somali people to decide their destiny and their own fate.”
As the Eritrean regime doesn’t recognise the Transitional Government of Somalia, regardless the size and quantity, it is expected to distribute the ‘aid’ through Al-Shabab, the same group ‘Al-Qaeda’ is dealing with to distribute its ‘aid’. Therefore, the Monitoring Group, the body which has been mandated to monitor Eritrean government’s support to Al-Shabab, has to be more vigilant so that the PFDJ regime wont exploit the humaniterian situation to send the military assistance it has been denied to give to Al-Shabab, the Somali armed group accused of having links to Al-Qaeda.