MOGADISHU, Somalia - Help for hundreds of thousands of Somalis is in jeopardy, two international aid groups said Friday after Islamic insurgents forced one to suspend some operations and threatened the other.
The last two weeks have been especially bloody, with the United Nations estimating more than 80 civilians killed in the capital alone. Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva, said more than 100 people were injured in the same period.
Somalia is torn between a growing Islamic insurgency and a weak and corrupt U.N.-backed government propped up by troops from neighboring Ethiopia.
In recent months the insurgents have mounted a series of hit-and-run attacks on several towns and now hold Somalia's third-largest city.
On Friday, a statement by insurgent spokesman Sheik Muqtar Robow accused the aid groups CARE and the International Medical Corps of committing "crimes against Islam and the jihad" and warned them to leave areas controlled by Islamic forces.
He did not elaborate on why the two agencies were singled out or what would happen if they did not leave.
"I am warning other agencies in Somalia to not get involved in areas outside their job," Robow said. "If they are found, they will face suspension of operations."
IMC spokeswoman Margaret Aguirre said the group suspended work in southern Somalia last week when insurgents looted four IMC offices in Somalia's Bakool and Bay regions. No staff members were hurt in the attacks.
"We're deeply concerned about the impact of these incidents on people who are already suffering," said Aguirre, speaking from the agency's head office in California.
IMC clinics in the affected region serve more than 370,000 people, 53,000 of them children under 5 years of age. Aguirre, citing security concerns, did not say how many staffers work for IMC in Somalia.
CARE said in a statement that the threat put its humanitarian operations throughout Somalia in jeopardy.
"These kinds of targeted and public threats ultimately force us to choose between the safety of our colleagues on the ground and our commitment to deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of Somalis who are in desperate need of assistance," David Gilmour, country director for CARE Somalia, said in a statement.
The organization said its activities included delivering food, water and sanitation to about 1 million Somalis.
Both the Islamic insurgents and the shaky government have threatened Western aid groups before although it is unusual for particular agencies to be singled out. Twelve aid workers have been killed this year alone and almost 20 have been kidnapped.
Even peacekeepers are targeted. On Thursday night, insurgents attacked a Burundian contingent of African Union peacekeepers, killing two civilians and injuring 19, said Ruqiyo Shafi'i, who lives near the AU base in south Mogadishu.
AU spokesman Barigye Bahoku said no peacekeepers died or were wounded in the attack.
Recent droughts and high food prices have added to problems in the Horn of Africa country, which has been without a stable government for more than 17 years. According to the U.N., nearly half of Somalia's 8.3 million people need food aid and other assistance.