Blackwater Founder Is Said to Back African Mercenaries
By MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON – Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is secretly backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali militias, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to Western and African officials.
The disclosure comes as Mr. Prince sells off his interest in the company he built into a behemoth with billions of dollars in American government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, work that mired him in controversy and lawsuits amid reports of reckless behavior by his operatives, including the deaths of civilians in Iraq. His efforts to wade into the chaos of Somalia appears to be Mr. Prince’s latest endeavor to remain at the center of a campaign against Islamic radicalism in some of the world’s most war-ravaged corners. Mr. Prince moved to the United Arab Emirates late last year.
According to a report by the African Union, an organization of African states, Mr. Prince provided initial funding for a project by Saracen International to win contracts with Somalia’s embattled government. The Somali government has been cornered into a small patch of Mogadishu by theShabab, a Somali militant group with ties to Al Qaeda.