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Piracy News & Commentary

Islamists and Piracy in Somalia

The BBC has reported that Somali Islamists have executed a Somali politician for the crime of apostacy, in that he had worked with the non-Moslem Ethiopian occupying forces. In the Sharia court's view, this was sufficient evidence that the official had abandoned his Moslem faith. (Ethiopian forces recently withdrew from Somalia, having failed to oust Islamists from Mogadishu.) The trial and execution of the official illustrates not only the extremism of at least some of the Somali Islamists, but the dangers of an extremist government taking over a failed state. The consequences of such a takeover could easily reach as far as Somali piracy, which to date has not been for political purpose, but for profit. However, among the Somali Islamists are a number of Islamist terrorists, and the eventual use of piracy as a financing tactic--or worse, the use of the tactics of small boat and small arms to inflict acts of terrorism on international shipping, as opposed to acts of piracy--by Islamist terrorists is not out of the question. The suppression of Somali piracy, necessary not only for reason of humanity and economy, could thus also be argued as necessary in order to quash the potential for the active involvement of terrorists in piracy.

Until 2006, the Islamists appear to have generally opposed piracy. After capturing two pirate towns in 2006, for example, they warned residents that piracy was now a crime. In the same year, Islamists freed at least one vessel held by Somali pirates, and the 2006 downturn in Somali piracy was partly attributed to Islamists. However, according to the BBC, some analysts now believe that since the demise of the Union of Islamic Courts which controlled much of southern Somalia and the rise in their place of the hardline al-Shabab, Islamists have made alliances with pirates. In particular, they believe that pirates are smuggling arms and supplies for Islamists, and apparently providing training in naval operations as well, in return for the use of bases in Islamist territory. For the pirates, the alliance appears to be motivated by economics. The only significant anti-piracy step Somali Islamists have taken recently was the threat to pursue the pirates who captured the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star, claiming that it was a crime to attack a Moslem ship.
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