2 Christian Aid Groups Suspended in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan authorities suspended two Christian foreign aid groups Monday on suspicion of proselytizing in the strictly Islamic nation and said a follow-up investigation would include whether other groups were trying to convert Muslims.

U.S.-based Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid will not be allowed to operate while the allegations, aired Sunday on Afghan television, are investigated, said Mohammad Hashim Mayar, the deputy director of the Afghan government office that oversees nongovernment organizations, known as NGOs.

Mayar said officials did not have any evidence of proselytizing beyond the television report.

An investigation commission including officers from the National Security and Interior Ministries had been appointed, he said.

"They are investigating whether the groups were proselytizing or not," Mayar said. "They will report back and also assess what is the impact of closing these NGOs. The investigation will include whether other groups or individuals are involved."

The two groups could not immediately be reached for comment.

Proselytizing is illegal in Afghanistan, as it is in many Muslim countries. It is a hot-button issue for many Afghans sensitive to the influence of the scores of foreign aid groups operating in the country to help it recover from decades of war.

Church World Service is a cooperative ministry of more than 30 Protestant and Orthodox denominations in the United States and works in more than 80 countries. It is headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana.

Norwegian Church Aid operates in about 125 countries, providing long-term development and emergency response aid, according to its website.