MOGADISHU, Somalia – MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A Somali militant group with links to al-Qaida on Monday announced it had banned three Christian aid agencies from its territory, and one aid group said militants had occupied their offices in southern Somalia.
World Vision, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and Diakonia must immediately leave Somalia because the groups were actively propagating Christianity, the militant group al-Shabab said in a statement. Somalia is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and al-Shabab promotes a particularly hardline and conservative reading of Islam.
"Acting as missionaries under the guise of humanitarian work the organizations have been spreading their corrupted ideologies in order to taint the pure creed of the Muslims in Somalia," al-Shabab said.
World Vision Somalia's spokeswoman, Amanda Koech, said that her organization was surprised to receive al-Shabab's order to close down. Al-Shabab militants occupied the group's offices in the southern Somali towns of Duale, Baidoa and Wajid, she said. World Vision has asked its staff to remain at home for now.
"World Vision is a Christian organization motivated by Christian values to help the needy in the society. While World Vision recognizes the need to remain impartial in responding to the needy, by policy World Vision is prohibited to proselytize in its work," Koech said in a statement.
Koech said World Vision does not have any international staff in southern Somalia. All World Vision staff in that part of the Horn of Africa nation are Somalis and primarily Muslim, she said.
Al-Shabab has also warned other aid agencies against taking up the work of the banned organizations, saying they will face "appropriate disciplinary measures."
The group, which claimed responsibility for twin blasts in Uganda during the World Cup final that killed 76 people, has already banned several U.N. agencies and aid groups. Together with allied groups, al-Shabab controls most of southern Somalia, including a large part of Mogadishu.
The ultraconservative and militant al-Shabab draws comparisons to Afghanistan's Taliban. Al-Shabab's accusations that the three groups were proselytizing come only days after the killings last Thursday of 10 members of a medical mission in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed the group were spies and tried to convert Muslims.
Associated Press writer Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.