Somalia's hardline al-Shabaab militia on Monday raided the offices of three United Nations organizations hours after they banned their operations on accusation that they were "enemies of Islam and Muslims."
The armed group stormed the United Nations Development Program, U.N. Department of Safety and Security and the U.N. Political Office for Somalia in two southern Somalia towns and impounded office equipment.
"The above foreign agencies have been found to be working against the benefit of the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia," al-Shabaab said in a statement.
The raid in Wajid and Baidoa towns which came hours after the statement was issued only singled out the three organizations, with other U.N. offices in the same compounds spared, a U.N. official in Baidoa told AFP.
"They have taken away three U.N. cars from the compound but have not harmed several U.N. foreign staff," an officer, who declined to be named for security reasons, told Reuters.
"They said the raid was only limited to the offices of the U.N. agencies whose activities they banned," he added.
The al-Qaeda-inspired insurgency has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia in relentless battles against the government and Ethiopian troops that ousted an Islamist movement they initially were part of.
In March, al-Shabaab welcomed international aid groups to regions under their control to assist thousands of hunger-stricken people.
Their statement on Monday also announced the setting up of an office to oversee the activities of NGOs and foreign agencies to which they must report to be "informed of conditions and restrictions on their work."
The statement from al-Shabab's department of political affairs and regional administration said the decision was reached after "thorough research."
Other accusations against the organizations included "evidence of training and support for the apostate government and the training of its troops."
The U.N. does not have permanent foreign staff in the war-ravaged country and runs program from neighboring Kenya.
Cycle of violence
Since plunging into cycles of violence with the 1991 ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre, the Horn of Africa state has become one of the world's most dangerous places for foreign workers.
Aid workers and foreign journalists have been increasingly targeted in recent years by ransom-hunting gunmen.
At the weekend, three foreign aid workers were abducted by Somali gunmen during a raid in a Kenyan border town, while two French agents are being held by al-Shabaab after being seized last week in Mogadishu.
The two French men had been offering security advice to the embattled Somali government.
A Shabaab official from southern Somalia said they had nothing to do with the kidnapping in Kenya and that they had sent out fighters to search for the foreigners whose nationality and employer have not been released.
An elder in Bulohawo town near the Kenyan border said they would embark on joint efforts with the Kenyan team to seek the release of the hostages.
"A team of elders from Mandera are about to reach us here in Bulohawo soon and we will jointly start looking for ways to negotiate the release of the hostages," he told AFP by phone.
The hardline militia and the more political Hezbul Islam group launched an offensive in early May to oust the internationally-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
Hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed while hundreds of thousand others have been forced out from their homes in the war-riven capital Mogadishu.