The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has said it is "extremely concerned" by newly released photographs appearing to show Syrian refugees picking up its aid packages that have been rebranded with Islamic State logos.
"WFP condemns this manipulation of desperately needed food aid inside Syria," the agency's emergency regional coordinator for the Syria crisis Muhannad Hadi said in a statement Wednesday. "We urge all parties to the conflict to respect humanitarian principles and allow humanitarian workers including our partners to deliver food to the most vulnerable and hungry families."
The Aleppo branch of the militant group released the propaganda photographs Tuesday, which appears to show Islamic State supporters distributing food aid in cardboard boxes to women and children near a refugee camp near the town of Dayr Hafr in eastern Aleppo governorate.
Sheets of paper with the Islamic State insignia appear to have been partially stuck over cardboard boxes already printed with the logos of the WFP and Red Crescent, which helps store and distribute the aid.
According to the Overseas Development Institute, the UN works with local humanitarian organizations that negotiate with the Islamic State to allow the delivery of aid to more than 4 million people every month across Syria.
"WFP has learned that in September 2014 [the Islamic State] raided Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) warehouses in Dayr Hafr where undistributed food rations may have been stored," the program said in the statement. "All areas controlled by ISIS are security hot spots, which severely limits the ability to monitor food distributions."
A SARC spokeswoman told Reuters her organization coordinates with all Syrian actors, including the Islamic State, for access for the safe delivery of aid, but that Red Crescent volunteers ultimately deliver the packages to recipients. The spokeswoman could not confirm if the warehouses had been pillaged.
The Islamic State has sought to establish its legitimacy as a governing body since overrunning large areas of land in Syria and Iraq last summer. Since then, it has routinely released propaganda photos and flyers, including those depicting the group minting its own coins, sending local children to schools, and now delivering food to residents.