Somali villager travels to US to confront army chief he says tried to kill him

Human rights abuses and atrocities committed in Somalia during the brutal 21-year reign of the dictator Siad Barre will come under scrutiny in a Virginia courtroom this week as a villager finally confronts the military commander he accuses of attempting to kill him.

Farhan Warfaa last saw the defendant, Yusuf Abdi Ali, in March 1988 when he says Ali – known to terrorized members of the northwestern Somalia Isaaq clan as “Colonel Tukeh” (the crow) – pulled out a handgun and shot him five times at point-blank range following a torture session.

Ali was the commander of the Somali army’s notorious fifth brigade responsible for “gross human rights abuses” in the separatist province of Somaliland during the Barre regime of the 1970s and 1980s, according to the complaint brought by the California-based Center for Justice and Accountability.

Warfaa, a teenager at the time of his abduction and now a respected village elder, has travelled from Somalia for the scheduled five-day hearing in the US district court for the eastern district of Virginia, at which he is seeking unspecified damages for torture and attempted extra-judicial killing.

Just reaching a federal courtroom also marks a victory for the CJA, which first filed the complaint on Warfaa’s behalf in 2004 and which had to overcome some significant legal hurdles that at times threatened to derail the entire case.

In 2016 a Virginia appeals court stripped elements from the lawsuit that prevented Ali – who was discovered by a CNN crew in 2016 working as a security guard at Washington DC’s Dulles airport – from facing wider allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.