NEW YORK (Reuters) - An American aid worker who was kidnapped last year in Sudan’s ravaged Darfur region has sued the charity that sent her there.
Flavia Wagner, who spent more than three months in captivity before being freed, accused Samaritan’s Purse of failing to train its security personnel adequately and of willfully ignoring warning signs that abductions were a threat to foreigners.
The suit also names a crisis-management consulting firm that was retained by Samaritan’s Purse — a North Carolina-based group run by Franklin Graham, the son of famed Christian evangelist Billy Graham — to handle negotiations with the kidnappers.
Abductions of foreign aid workers and international peacekeepers have been a growing problem in Darfur, ever since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in 2009 for crimes against humanity.
Bashir, who denies the charges, subsequently expelled most large aid organizations from Darfur, where 4 million people live in the midst of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The lawsuit, filed this week in Manhattan federal court, alleges Samaritan’s Purse sent Wagner to the Abu Ajura area in May 2010 despite the fact other non-government organizations “had prohibited their employees from traveling in that area” because of the threat of kidnapping.
Wagner, a resident of Bronxville, New York, had been briefly abducted once before in the fall of 2009, which should have served as a clear signal to Samaritan’s Purse of the danger, the suit asserts.
The court papers also accuse Samaritan’s Purse of following “a plan designed to protect its own financial and political interests by minimizing the amount of money that it would pay” for a ransom.
A spokeswoman for the charity said the company is still reviewing the lawsuit and did not yet have a comment. Clayton Consultants, the crisis-management firm, also declined to comment, saying it does not discuss pending litigation.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jerry Norton