Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Somali Pirates Flee Al-Shabaab

News reports indicate that Somali pirates were forced to flee from the coastal community of Haradheere after a weekend attack by al-Shabaab militants. The Voice of America says pirates from Haradheere fled in the wake of news that hundreds of fighters belonging to the Islamist group were approaching the area, taking a number of captured vessels and human hostages north towards the next nearest pirate stronghold, the town of Hobyo. (On the map above, Haradheere is not marked, but is located in the southern corner of Mudug province.)

According to The Guardian, two vehicles with al-Shabaab fighters entered Haradheere Sunday evening, though they are reported to have later left. But the fear of being attacked by the Islamist group was apparently enough of a worry for the pirates to decamp to safer places. A businessman in Haradheere told the media that, "The town is nearly empty after the pirates have left it...It is calm but tense."

The Guardian report also says that among the hostages who were moved by the pirates was the British couple - Rachel and Paul Chandler - who have been held since their yacht was captured last October. The Chandlers are said to have been bundled out of Haradheere in a vehicle. In The Guardian post, a leader from the gang holding the Chandlers claims that al-Shabaab offered his group £1.2m for the couple, though the pirates are demanding £1.6m in ransom.

The attack by al-Shabaab may be part of the group's efforts to consolidate control over more of central Somalia, and to impose their form of justice on criminals like pirates. But another possible motive being mentioned in the VoA report is that revenge may be a factor. Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Association says that pirates recently hijacked a vessel suspected of carrying arms intended for al-Shabaab. Pirates are also reported to have seized several dhows laden with charcoal that had left Somalia bound for the Gulf States. Mwangura says the cargoes were sources of money for al-Shabaab, so the fighters are angry about the loss of revenue (most of the dhows have since been freed, according to the VoA report).

When faced with an armed opposition intent on attacking their shore-based strongholds, Somali pirates would prefer to cut-and-run rather than fight it out. And this recent incident brings to mind the period when the Islamic Courts Union briefly held sway over large parts of southern and central Somalia in 2006, and brought piracy to a near stand-still as a result of their imposition of law and order in the area.

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