Somalia's extremist insurgent group, al-Shabab, says three U.N. agencies working with the country's U.N.-backed transitional government have been declared "enemies of Islam" and their operations in Somalia have been shut down.
A statement released by al-Shabab's Department of Political Affairs and Regional Administrations identified the banned U.N. agencies as the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Department of Safety and Security and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia.
Al-Shabab, which controls large portions of the country, said the three agencies are considered enemies because they are funding and supporting the government of Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed and the 4,300-member African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.
The militant group said it has also established an office to register and monitor all other non-governmental agencies and foreign agencies working in Somalia.
A spokeswoman for the United Nations Development Program, Rozanne Charlton, confirmed that al-Shabab has brought UNDP operations in the town of Baidoa in southwestern Somalia to a standstill.
"In Baidoa, U.N. equipment and vehicles were taken. The special problem that we have is that our emergency communications equipment has been removed," she said. "So, this together with the lack of security obviously, means we cannot continue to our operations for the moment. We are extremely regretful that we have to temporarily suspend our operations. But we hope it will be very short term," she said.
The leader of the Somali government, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is an Islamist cleric, who once led the Islamic Courts Union before it was ousted by Ethiopian troops in late 2006. Al-Shabab, which functioned as the courts' militant wing before becoming an independent insurgent group, declared war on President Sharif after the Somali leader and his faction broke ranks with Islamist hard-liners and joined the government in January.
Since then, al-Shabab and another allied militant group called Hisbul Islam have been battling to topple the government in Mogadishu. But the insurgents have been unable to penetrate into key areas of the capital defended by AMISOM troops and tanks.
The head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Somali government. In an article published in the Washington Post newspaper Monday, the U.N. envoy said the conflict in Somalia is no longer a civil war, but what he described as "an externally funded attempt to overthrow a legitimate, recognized government."
Oul-Abdallah said those fighting the government include individuals on the U.N. Security Council's list of al-Qaida and Taliban members backed by several hundred experienced fighters from other areas of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Since 2007, al-Shabab, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, has steadily gained territory in southern Somalia and now controls key towns such as Baidoa and Kismayo in the Lower Juba region.
The militant group, which adheres to the ultra-conservative Salafist/Wahabist tenet of Islam practiced by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, has imposed strict Islamic laws in areas under their control and has carried out amputations and beheadings as punishment for various crimes.
Al-Shabab is currently holding two French government agents, who were kidnapped last Tuesday from their hotel rooms in Mogadishu while on a mission to train Somali troops. The militants said the two agents will be tried according to Islamic law on charges of spying and aiding an apostate government.
The French government has declined to comment on al-Shabab's threat against its employees. But Somalia's prime minister said on Sunday that all options, including a military option, are being considered to rescue the hostages.