The Somali militant group Al Shabaab banned 16 international aid agencies, including a dozen United Nations organizations, from working in Somalia on Monday after accusing them of “illicit activities and misconduct,” according to Reuters.
The decision will likely severely affect Somalis battling starvation in the drought-stricken region, all the while living in the midst of a three-front fight between the rebel group and Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian forces.
Al Shabaab’s decision to uproot the aid organizations seemed to be based in the belief that the aid groups stir up dissent toward the rebels’ strict and punitive interpretation of Islam, according to the Associated Press. The Al Qaeda-linked group believes that the aid workers may be spies sent from outside countries.
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In a long statement in English, the group claimed the aid organizations were “persistently galvanizing the local population against the full establishment of the Islamic Sharia system,” the UN reported.
The militant group said the claim stemmed from a “meticulous yearlong review and investigation” by a committee it called the Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies.
The rebel group controls vast stretches of land in the Horn of Africa country, and began seizing and looting some of the offices Monday in the southern and central Somalia, according to a spokesperson from the UN Children’s Fund.
Witness in the towns of Beldweyne and Baidoa told AP that armed, masked men stole equipment from offices.
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Hundreds of thousands of Somalis are dependent on aid from the international aid groups in Somalia, AP reported. During a severe drought that decimated crops and animal herds and killed tens of thousands of people, according to Reuters. Though some of the famine zones under Al Shabaab’s control have recently been downgraded, the UN says 250,000 still face starvation.
Among the agencies banned are the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Norwegian and Danish Refugee Councils.