A Virginia man is in federal court this week facing accusations that he tortured and tried to kill a perceived Somali dissident in the 1980s.
Outside of court, he has been driving for Uber and Lyft.
CNN journalists went undercover to take an Uber ride with ex-Somali colonel Yusuf Abdi Ali and record the trip on video. His Uber profile indicated he had been driving for the ride-sharing service for 18 months, CNN reported.
A civil court jury in Alexandria is evaluating a 14-year-old lawsuit alleging that Ali shot a Somali man, Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa, while interrogating him in 1988. Warfaa says he survived only because he bribed his assigned gravediggers to save him.
Ali has lived in the United States since the 1990s, the lawsuit says, after he spent five years as a commander in Somalia’s national army. He told CNN that he drives ride-sharing passengers full time and prefers weekend shifts because “that’s where the money is.”
Ali’s attorney, Joseph Peter Drennan, could not immediately be reached for comment. Drennan told jurors at the trial that he believes Warfaa was tortured, but that Ali was not the perpetrator, the Associated Press reported. Drennan said the lawsuit was about “clan vengeance,” according to the AP.
Jodi Page, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company removed Ali’s access to the app and is reviewing the situation. Lyft has permanently banned Ali and will assist law enforcement if they choose to investigate, said Campbell Matthews, a spokeswoman for Lyft.
Ali, who was known in Somalia as “Colonel Tukeh,” was able to pass background checks because he has faced no criminal charges in the United States. No criminal court has jurisdiction to try him, CNN reported.
Checkr, a consumer reporting agency, performs background checks for Uber and Lyft. The agency looks for information about where each applicant has lived, worked or encountered law enforcement, according to Checkr’s website. The search includes sex-offender databases, global watch lists and a national criminal database.
“Under federal law, consumer reporting agencies that process background checks rely on criminal records that have been filed in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results,” David Patterson, a spokesman for Checkr, said in a statement. “Most employers don’t request background checks that include civil lawsuits between private parties because the information is too subjective to use for a hiring decision.”
Warfaa alleges in his lawsuit that he is a member of Somalia’s Isaaq clan, which in the 1980s established an opposition force to Mohamed Siad Barre’s military-controlled government. Warfaa, then 17, was working as a farmer in the village of Jifo Uray in December 1987 when Ali called a public meeting there and accused the opposition group of stealing a water tanker, Warfaa claims. Ali threatened to kill everyone in the village if the tanker was not returned, the lawsuit alleges.
Warfaa says he and other men were brought to the headquarters of the army’s 5th Brigade a few days later and detained. He says soldiers twice brought him to Ali’s office, where his hands and feet were chained while Ali interrogated him about the missing water tanker.
Ali was also in the room while Warfaa was tortured at least nine times, the lawsuit says. Warfaa claims soldiers sometimes tilted his body into an excruciatingly painful shape that was meant to look like the wings of the army’s MiG aircraft. The soldiers also took his clothing and kicked him repeatedly in the head, Warfaa says.
In March 1988, Warfaa alleges, Ali shot him in the wrist and leg at least five times while the opposition force attacked the brigade’s headquarters. When Warfaa collapsed unconscious, he claims, Ali told his bodyguards to bury Warfaa.
The bodyguards, however, let Warfaa go free in exchange for a bribe from Warfaa’s family, the lawsuit claims.
“Colonel Tukeh was one of the most ruthless commanders of the 20-year Siad Barre dictatorship and was responsible for the detention, cruel treatment, and death of a great many members of Farhan’s community during the country’s civil war,” the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability, which represents Warfaa, said in a statement. “When Siad Barre was eventually overthrown in 1991, Tukeh fled to Canada and later became a permanent resident of the United States.”
Farhan’s lawsuit against Ali was filed in 2004 but stalled while courts evaluated whether Ali, a foreign official, could be sued under U.S. law. The trial is expected to end this week, according to the Center for Justice & Accountability.
Ali has previously come under fire for working security at Dulles International Airport.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority told CNN at the time that the FBI had performed a criminal-background check on Ali and the Transportation Security Administration had done a threat assessment. The Department of Homeland Security said the results of Ali’s security screening did not disqualify him from employment, CNN reported.
Ali has also worked as a security guard in Toronto, according to CNN. Canada deported him in 1992 after a broadcast news program accused him of war crimes in Somalia, the New York Times reported.
The Center for Justice & Accountability has also won torture lawsuits against two other former members of the Somali military under Siad Barre: Gen. Mohamed Ali Samantar and Col. Abdi Aden Magan, who was the investigations chief of the Somali National Security Service.