Reuters) - Somalia's al Shabaab insurgents said on Monday they had ordered several aid agencies to close their operations, accusing them of spreading Christian propaganda.
The hardline Islamists, which are linked to al Qaeda, control most of southern and central Somalia along with another rebel group, Hizbul Islam. Fighting between the rebels and African Union-backed government troops in the capital Mogadishu has worsened one of the world's most acute humanitarian crises.
Al Shabaab said it had barred World Vision, which was founded in the United States in 1950, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and Diakonia from working in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
"Acting as missionaries under the guise of humanitarian work, the organisations have been spreading their corrupted ideologies in order to taint the pure creed of the Muslims in Somalia," al Shabaab said in a statement. "Along with their missionary work, the proliferation of corruption and indecency has become prevalent as a result of their presence."
The militants warned that any other agencies promoting the Christian faith would also be expelled.
World Vision's Somalia office, based in Nairobi, said internal policy prevented the organisation from proselytising, and added that it was contacting local staff in Somalia.
Earlier this year, al Shabaab ordered the U.N.'s food agency, World Food Programme, to halt all operations and leave the failed state.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that nearly half the Somali population needs aid and the country has the world's highest malnutrition levels.
Fighting in Somalia, which has had no effective central government for 19 years, has killed at least 21,000 people and forced more than 1.5 million from their homes since the start of 2007.