Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Pirates 'working with Islamists'

By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

Sirius Star
Pirates captured the Sirius Star tanker at the weekend

Somali pirates have been accused of forming what is described as an "unholy high seas alliance" with some of the country's Islamist insurgents.

Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor says certain insurgents are using pirates to smuggle weapons and supplies and help provide bases in return.

The London-based newsletter says pirates are also training Somali hardliners in naval tactics.

The links are traced to 2007, after Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia.

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which took control of much of southern Somalia in 2006, had cracked down on pirate operations in Hobyo and Harardheere.

They even freed a dhow captured by the pirates in August 2006.

But after the UIC were ousted, various Islamic groups formed links with the pirates.

Maritime force

Bruno Schiemsky - who formerly monitored UN arms shipments into Somalia - says these links take a variety of forms:

Members of al-Shabab at a training camp outside Mogadishu (4 November 2008)

  • Islamists have used the pirates to bring in arms shipments and foreign fighters, providing weapons and training in their use in return. They also help with bases from which the pirates operate
  • Hardliners, known as the Shabab, now have a degree of control over several pirate groups and provide operating funds and specialist weapons in return for a share of the ransoms being paid to free the ships and crew
  • As many as 2,500 young Somalis have been trained by the Shabab at points all along the Somali coast
  • The Islamists are using the pirates to train their own forces in naval tactics so that they can provide protection for arms being smuggled in Somalia from Eritrea.

The article provides details of three arms shipments brought into the country by pirates.

It says two shipments in May were for Sheikh Hassan Abdulle Hersi, who is also known as Hassan Turki, an Islamist leader who is based in southern Somalia near Kismayo.

They are reported to have been picked up from islands off the Eritrean coast.

One was landed south of the capital, Mogadishu, the other brought into Mogadishu port where businessmen are alleged to have bribed port officials to allow them to be landed.

Another shipment arrived in July and is reported to have contained large quantities of weapons including specialist sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, guided anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft guns, as well as ammunition.

This is said to have been landed in Puntland in north-eastern Somalia.

The maritime force organised by the Shabab - along the lines of the Sea Tigers operated by the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers - is said to be located in southern Somalia.

They are reported to be 480 strong, and the article says they will operate off the coast of Somalia and northern Kenya.

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