Thursday, 21 July 2011

A million dollars of ransoms paid to terrorist group in two month period

A Reuter's investigation, combined with statements made by UN officials, seems to confirm what many observers strongly claim: that the Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab's operations are being financed partly by ransoms from ships. Some suspect that the links between the two groups goes even further, including in matters of logistical and operational cooperation and supplies- and so exposes shipping in the region to the danger of maritime terrorism in addition to the scourge of piracy.

Reuters says that pirates, al Shabaab militants and residents of Haradhere have corroborated that payments totalling more than a million dollars have been made to Al Shabaab's "marine office" in a short two-month period this year:

February 25: US$200,000 from the US$4.5 million ransom for the Japanese MV Izumi.
March 8: US$80,000 from the US$2 million ransom for the MV Rak Africana.
March 9: US$100,000 from the US$4.5 million ransom for the Singapore-flagged MV York.
April 13: US$600,000 from the US$5.5 million ransom for the MV Beluga Nomination.
April 15: US$66,000 from the US$3.6 million ransom for the MV Asphalt Venture.
May 14: US$100,000 from the ransom paid for the release of two Spanish crew of the FV VEGA 5.

Somali pirates made roughly US$240 million in ransoms last year; it is not known how much of this money has found its way to the Al Shabaab. Nevertheless, the Reuter investigation will put further pressure on the UN and governments to act; the terms of the arms embargo on Somalia ban financial support to armed groups in the country; besides, Al Shabaab has long been declared a terrorist organisation by both the United States and the United Kingdom.

John Steed, special envoy to Somalia, admits that links between armed pirate gangs and the Shabaab were 'gradually firming'. "The payment of ransoms, just like any other funding activity, illegal or otherwise, is technically in breach of the Somalia sanctions regime if it makes the security situation in Somalia worse," he says, "especially if it is ending up in the hands of terrorists or militia leaders -- and we believe it is." He added, though, that there was no 'proof' of any operational relationship between Al Shabaab and pirate groups.

However, the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says pirates are operating in greater numbers from Kismayu, a city controlled by the Shabaab, and that recruitment of pirates there is rising. "Detained pirates tell us that some level of cooperation with Al Shabaab is necessary to run a criminal enterprise," Alan Cole of the UNODC says.

An Al Shabaab fighter told Reuters in Haradhere, another pirate stronghold, "If there was no relationship between us, there is no way the pirates would be able to operate or carry their weapons within zones we control." Al Shabaab is believed to have forced pirate leaders in the town to pay 20% of all ransoms to them.

"Some money has to be ending up in Al Shabaab's hands," says Michael Frodl of C-level Maritime Risks- he advises Lloyd's underwriters- adding that payment of ransoms could possibly be breaking laws against funding terrorism in some western countries like the US. The US Treasury, says Frodl, has cleared ransoms in the past before they are paid. ""But if there is indeed a 20 percent 'tax' being applied by Shabaab against pirate ransoms in Haradhere, a major pirate hub it now controls, then things could change."

Independent analysts, however, say that governments like those in the UK and the US are deliberately ignoring, for their own reasons, links between the Shabaab and pirate groups. They point to the fact that two of the leaders of pirate gangs are in the group of eleven 'masterminds of the Somali conflict,' - whom President Obama had barred financial dealings with in an Executive Order last year.

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