Mogadishu, March 5 The new Somali Defence Minister Mohamed Abdi Mohamed made a statement last week, saying that piracy emanating from his country must be fought on land. In fact, he felt that it was one of the first things that needed to be done. Talking to Reuters, he said, "If anyone wants to fight piracy, it has to start from mainland Somalia, because the unstable situation on the mainland is largely responsible for the piracy on the water." His statement assumes greater importance as elections are scheduled in Somalia later this month, although many observers say that these are likely to be postponed in the present chaos in the country. This is a clear and present danger, as terrorists funded by pirate warlords plan to bomb Somali cities and destabilise the country, they say.
Although he candidly admits that his experience of defence issues is limited, Mohamed, called ‘Ghandi’ within the country, is widely seen as a moderate who intends to make efforts to stop the fighting in war torn Somalia. “I don't have experience in the affairs of defence, but I will try to understand how we can get a new Somali army that can stabilise Somalia," Mohamed told Reuters.
Contrary to claims made by international navies patrolling the region, piracy off Somalia seems to be actually increasing. The International Maritime Bureau says there have been 49 piracy attacks this year, up from 35 in the same period last year. That is actually a staggering 40 percent increase.
The Defence Minister wants to talk to the Al Qaeda linked al Shabaab and another smaller group, Hizbul Islam, to stop the civil war raging in Somalia, one that has made pirate warlords extremely powerful. Just one of them, Colonel Abdullahi Ahmed Jama (Ilka Jiir) runs an illegitimate government in the Puntland region, and is said to be a major financier and controller of scores of pirates. He has also been implicated in the kidnappings of foreign aid workers across Somalia. Intelligence sources quoted in Western media say that Ilka Jiir plans to use piracy ransom booty to send terrorists to bomb Somali cities in the run up to the March elections: they also allege that Jama’s pirates include fighters trained by Al Qaeda, pointing once again to the alarming depth of the menace facing commercial shipping.
Pirates are widely regarded as heroes in Puntland, move freely there and live lavish lifestyles. Reports have recently emerged in Somali media speaking of large gangs of pirates that go out every morning to ‘hunt’ ships, just as fishermen go fishing. The local administration and police are allegedly involved.
Somali media says that Fu´aad Warsame Seed (Fu´aad Xanaano), a friend of Ilka Jiir, is another leading figure in piracy and kidnapping the foreigners. He is supposed to be the mastermind behind the ‘Sirius Star’ hijack, and has made millions of dollars from the piracy ‘business’.
Fu´aad Xanaano has purchased anti aircraft missiles and has formed his own army. He has also financed Ilka Jiir in his political ambitions. Somali observers call the Puntland ‘government’ the ‘Pirate Government’, since most members of the illegal administration are involved in piracy. The ‘President of Puntland’, Cabdiraxman Faroole, apparently does better: He prints fake Somali currency at his office.
The situation on land is now getting worse. Reports in the local newspaper ‘Hargeisa Times’ suggest that militia linked to the pirates have now mounted anti aircraft guns on vehicles around Eastern Sanaag (Ceel Buh village) and are forming a new pirate ‘base’, one that will attack ships between Elayo and Lasqoray, relatively safe areas thus far. Another aim is to destabilise Somaliland during the upcoming elections.
The prospects for anti terrorism in the region in general, and for commercial shipping in particular, are indeed frightening if this base is fully operational.
Mohamad, the new Defence Minister in Mogadishu is hopeful that “wisdom will prevail over violence, because the Somali population is very tired and fed up with war."
However, many intelligence analysts stress that the menace of Somali piracy will not be solved without international intervention in that country. Not least because the link between piracy and terrorism is getting stronger by the day.