By Abdi Skeikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Local aid workers in Somalia held crisis meetings on Sunday as anxiety rose over growing insecurity and the unexplained killings of humanitarian staff.
Unidentified gunmen have killed at least three aid workers in the anarchic Horn of Africa country this year and are holding four of their foreign colleagues hostage.
Fears were raised further in the past week by leaflets threatening local NGO workers with death if they did not quit their jobs.
Aid sources said most agencies working in Somalia were discussing suspending operations in Mogadishu and the south.
“It really is the end of the world if we now have to face death just because we are helping poor people,” said a local doctor who asked not to be identified.
In the latest violence, men armed with pistols shot dead the deputy head of a German charity south of the capital on Friday.
A week ago, gunmen killed Osman Ali Ahmed, the local head of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), in a similar attack.
The governor of Baidoa, which hosts Somalia’s parliament, said on Sunday that UNDP staff had withdrawn from the town.
“We expected them to stay and complete their projects, but now they have fled,” Abdifatah Mohamed told Reuters. UNDP officials could not immediately be contacted for comment.
Islamist fighters attacked Baidoa on July 7, killing at least four soldiers and firing mortar shells at its airport, presidential palace and the large refurbished warehouse where lawmakers from the Western-backed administration meet.
Mogadishu is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, especially for humanitarian staff. Four aid workers — two Italians, a Kenyan and a Briton — are currently held hostage.
Suspicion for killings and kidnappings usually falls on Islamist rebels waging an Iraq-style insurgency against the interim government and its Ethiopian military allies.
Many Somalis say there is confusion over the identities those behind the recent murders. These, combined with a sharp increase in revenge killings and general disorder, have caused many to be afraid.
“We have no hope of surviving, let alone helping our patients,” said Sahro Aden, a 25-year-old nurse who has stayed at home since reading one of the threatening leaflets.
Fighting the authorities is the al-Shabaab, the armed wing of a sharia courts group that Ethiopian forces helped the government drive out of Mogadishu at the start of last year.
An Islamist spokesman, Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Adow, condemned the killings of humanitarian workers.
However, he accused some aid agencies of siding with the government and singled out the UNDP for criticism, saying it had provided the police with vehicles and salaries.
The U.S. military has launched several air strikes inside Somalia in the paste few months targeting suspects in the deadly bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.
In March, Washington formally listed the Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organisation with strong links to al Qaeda.