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InsiderOnline Blog: December 2008

Piracy Funding Terrorists?

Tim Sullivan of the American Enterprise Institute points to some evidence that the pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have been giving a cut of their loot to a Somali-based Islamist militant organization called al-Shabaab, which has ties to Al Qaeda:

Reports indicate that elements of the Al-Shabaab militia—which, among Somalia’s many armed groups, has achieved a position of dominance—have in the past received a portion of the pirates’ booty in return for allowing the brigands to pursue their illicit trade undisturbed. As analysts have noted, it is not uncommon for terrorist groups to ally with more conventional criminal networks as a means of funding their ideological enterprises. One can only imagine the causes Al-Shabaab’s leaders—some of whom, according to the State Department, have trained and fought in Afghanistan—have been dedicating these funds to, beyond their immediate effort to overthrow the internationally-backed TFG. In one recent instance, following the pirates’ capture of a Ukrainian transport ship carrying Russian-made tanks, rocket-propelled grenades, and anti-aircraft guns en route to Mombasa, the Islamists immediately demanded access to the weapons on board. By that point, the pirates had already attracted international scrutiny from their recent spate of high-profile attacks, and foreign forces were already on the scene; under other circumstances, a portion of the ship’s goods might have ended up in the hands of Al-Shabaab militants.

While the recent seizure of the Sirius Star, which contains roughly $100 million worth of oil, has reportedly pitted elements of Al-Shabaab against the pirates, the rift between the groups seems only to be a function of the booty at stake. Last week, an Al-Shabaab spokesman condemned the pirates’ hijacking of the Muslim-owned vessel as a violation of Islamic law, insisting that the militants would liberate the ship by force, if necessary. Reports indicate that insurgents are massing in the coastal city of Haradheere, a hub of piracy, and that a clash between the pirates and the Islamists is imminent. But residents of the region are skeptical about the militants’ true motivations. According to one clan elder quoted in the London Telegraph, “There are many militiamen who have arrived in the town and they want to get a share from the pirates if the ransom is paid.”

The pirates are reported to have agreed to return a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 military tanks within days in exchange for a ransom of $3 million. How much of that will end up funding militants working to re-establish hard-line Islamist rule in Somalia?

Posted on 12/01/08 02:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

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