Could your next five-star Uber driver be a war criminal? For riders in Virginia, that was a real possibility, until this week. A CNN investigation found a driver who was accused of committing horrific crimes in Somalia got the OK to be a ride-share driver.
Yusef Abdi Ali is an accused war criminal facing a civil trial in Virginia, alleging he's responsible for atrocities including torture and attempted murder in Somalia in the 1980s. While awaiting trial, he has been driving for Uber. Ali is listed on the app as an "Uber Pro Diamond" driver with a 4.89 rating and also works for Lyft.
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How Uber and Lyft missed the accusations exposes a potential hole in their screening process. A simple Google search of Ali's name brings up article after article about his alleged brutality as a commander in the Somalian security force.
A major expose by CNN in 2016 found the alleged war criminal working as a security guard at Dulles International Airport, a job he was fired from shortly after the report aired.
A simple search would have also revealed a Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary with villagers' stories of Ali's actions, the man they knew as Colonel Tukeh. Villagers describe Ali burning men alive and dragging others behind military vehicles until dead.
Farhan Warfaa is a Somalian who claims in 1988, Ali tortured him for months then shot him twice, and ordered guards to bury him alive. He survived, but since no international court has jurisdiction, Warfaa has turned to civil court in the U.S. to seek damages.
In court filings Ali acknowledges he was a colonel in the Somali national army, but "denies having 'attempted extra-judicial killing and torture'" and denies directing any such actions by his "subordinates."
Ali told CNN he's been an Uber driver for a year and a half, and the background check was easy. Last year, Uber said it tightened its background checks after CNN found convicted felons were able to become ride share drivers.
Both Uber and Lyft said their background checks include criminal offenses and driving incidents, and the company that does the screening, Checkr told CNN in a statement they rely on public criminal records that have been adjudicated in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results. Both Uber and Lyft also said they don't review social media.
Ali has never been convicted of a crime, only accused.
When CNN pointed out Ali's history, both companies took immediate action to remove him. Lyft banned Ali for life. Uber suspended him pending a review.
His trial is expected to wrap up this week.
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