Will pirates join forces with Islamist militias in Somalia?
Escalation of violence could lead pirate gangs to join radical militants, including those with ties to Al Qaeda, say analysts.
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Following just days after a similar French military rescue mission of a French yacht, in which the French commandos killed two Somali pirates, along with the yacht's captain, the US Navy rescue mission had all the drama of a Hollywood movie.Skip to next paragraph
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Admiral Gortney told a Pentagon briefing that the commander of the ship gave the order to Navy SEAL snipers to kill the three Somali pirates, after negotiations with them broke down. The lifeboat was within 100 feet of from the USS Bainbridge at the time, and was effectively in tow.
Admiral Gortney defended the decision at the Pentagon briefing. "He [Captain Phillips] had a weapon aimed at him; that would be my interpretation of imminent danger," said Gortney.
But unlike the 19th-century gunboat policies of Britain and the US, which stamped out the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean or the pirates of the Caribbean, foreign naval operations off Somalia are unlikely to bring long-term solutions – nor are they designed to. The areas in which the pirates operate are too large to be patrolled effectively.
Somali government stopped piracy, then went into exile
Largely ungoverned since the fall of the government of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia today is mostly under the control of a collection of warring Islamist militias. Its government-in-exile, led by a moderate Islamist leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has vowed to contain piracy if it achieves full control of the country. Under the brief tenure of the Islamist Courts Union government in 2006, Somali piracy was, indeed, cut back nearly to zero.
But more radical Islamist groups, among them Al Shabab, which reportedly has ties with Al Qaeda, have recently praised pirates. In Baidoa, Al Shabab spokesman Muktar Robow "Abu Mansur" told reporters that pirates were "protecting the Somali coast."
"Foreign powers want to divide the country," he said, "and the pirates are protecting the coast against the enemies of Allah."
Al Qaeda-linked group could join piracy fight
"Given that people tend to look for opportunities to amass wealth, and that in the past year ransoms have ranged from $50 million to $100 million for a single ship, piracy is likely to continue," says Iqbal Jhazbhay, an expert on Somalia at the University of South Africa in Tshwane, as Pretoria is now called.
Like most other experts, Jhazbhay says there is no current link between Islamist groups and pirates, the latter primarily composed of criminal gangs with no political ambitions other than making money – although the Monitor reported in December that some of that money is flowing back to Islamists. But with so many Western naval ships off the coast, radical Islamist groups such as Al Shabab, could turn to high-seas piracy as a means for striking Western – and especially American – interests and to bring on a confrontation with the West.
With the French and American rescue missions, commercial shippers have been forced toward a turning point. "The signal has been sent that the old approach of pay ransom and move on ... isn't going to work anymore," says Mr. Jhazbhay. "The danger is that if Al Shabab want to dramatize the situation and bring another 'Black Hawk Down,' then it's likely to see that approach more often. It all depends on what the Islamists want to do next."