Somalia’s Islamist Shabaab rebels ordered shut 16 international aid agencies Monday in areas they control, and warned more would follow if they did not toe the line.
“Any organization found to be supporting or actively engaged in activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic State, or performing duties other than that which it formally proclaims, will be banned immediately without prior warning,” the Shabaab said in a statement.
Aid workers and witnesses earlier said that Shabaab gunmen stormed the offices of several international aid agencies in apparent coordinated raids in rebel-controlled regions of Somalia on Monday.
Offices including the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in the Baidoa and the World Health Organization (WHO) were raided and shut down in an area gripped by what the U.N. says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“Three armored vehicles with gunmen surrounded the offices, including the office of UNICEF,” said Adulahi Idle, a resident in Baidoa. “I saw many militiamen go inside the places and force the people there to leave and the men took control.”
A regional security source said the raids in south and central Somalia were well planned and coordinated, with gunmen seizing computers, telephones and other equipment from aid workers. No arrests were reported.
“It was a surprise, but something that was clearly planned,” said an aid agency official working in Somalia.
“It looks like a campaign against the aid agencies, they are closing them down,” said Mohammed Mowlid, a resident in the Shabaab-controlled town of Beledweyne in Hiran region.
Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab has blocked international staff working for aid agencies in its areas but has allowed limited operations by Somali nationals.
The United Nations has warned that nearly 250,000 people face imminent starvation in southern Somalia, the main base for the hardline Shabaab, with several areas under famine or emergency conditions.
“They came with guns into the offices of two aid agencies and ordered all the staff to go home, and have taken control of the offices,” said a local resident working for an international aid agency in Dinsor, in Bay region.
“It is not clear what they are trying to do, whether they want to stop the work permanently,” said the worker, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
Agencies operating in rebel strongholds including the southern port city of Kismayo and in Merka, south of the capital, were also ordered closed, with security sources saying they feared other areas might also be targeted.
However, some agencies are reported to have been spared according to residents, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Medecins Sans Frontieres.