Connect with us

Piracy

Pirates of the caliphate: who is the Somali kingpin accused of aiding Alshabaab?

Published

on

A feared Somali pirate kingpin is being investigated by the United Nations over claims that he has aided fighters from the Al-Qaeda-aligned militant group Al-Shabab.

A top United Nations official confirmed to Newsweek that Mohamed Garfanji Ali Dulai has provided logistical support to the Islamist fighters, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the Somali state since 2006.

“We believe he has been involved in the moving and provision of boats and logistical support to move Al-Shabab fighters into the Galgala mountains,” said Alan Cole, head of the U.N.’s Maritime Crime Programme.
A former senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak about the investigation, was more specific, telling Newsweek that the probe into Garfanji centers on “Djiboutian allegations that he received arms from Eritrea and channeled them” to Al-Shabab.

CNN, citing U.S. officials, was the first to report the existence of the investigation, which it said focused on two ringleaders, Garfanji and the other unidentified. The investigation also focuses on their alleged support for the affiliate of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Somalia.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in an email statement to Newsweek : “As a general policy, the department will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

Somali pirates have taken dozens of hostages and plundered millions of dollars from companies and private individuals over the past decade, as lawlessness in Somalia has enabled vast criminal enterprises to operate with relative impunity in the seas off the Somali coast. News of the U.N. investigation now uncovers a potential nexus between piracy and extremist activity in Africa.

So who is this pirate kingpin and why is he now suspected of working with extremist groups responsible for some of the worst massacres in modern East African history?

Major Investor

As well as his alleged ties to Al Shabab, a U.N official said that Garfanji had links to Mohamed “Big Mouth” Abdi Hassan—known as Afweyne—a key player in the Hobyo-Haradhere Piracy Network, based out of the Somali fishing village of Haradhere.

Afweyne was lured to Belgium on the promise of appearing in a documentary in 2013 and then was immediately arrested by Belgian police for his role in the hijacking of Belgian vessel the MV Pompei in 2009.
American-German journalist Michael Scott Moore—whose case Garfanji is suspected of playing an integral role—said that Garfanji and Afweyne were on a similar level in the Somali pirate hierarchy.

Moore was kidnapped in Somalia in 2012 as he researched a book, now titled ‘The Desert & The Sea,’ due to be released in 2018. He spent two-and-a-half years in captivity.

“Garfanji’s a kingpin among pirates in central Somalia, a boss on the level of Afweyne, so he belongs in jail. In my case he seems to have been a major investor, not an operational boss, not in charge of holding or even capturing me,” says Moore.

The capture of the pirate chief would be “significant,” Cole admits, if he could be taken abroad for arrest. “But unless the Somali authorities can extend their reach to where he is, it’s going to rely on him traveling overseas and getting picked up, which I don’t think he does.”

But it has not only been the weakness of the Somali authorities that has enabled Garfanji to evade capture: other Somali pirate figures have taken on his name in order to confuse both his potential captors and hostages.

Three hostages who spoke to Newsweek appeared to believe that they were describing Garfanji when it appears they were giving the account of their experiences with a lower-level boss named Ali Duulaay, more brutal and present in day-to-day operations with hostages.

A Filipino hostage and two Bangladeshi hostages recounted a man who threatened crews with death at gunpoint in exchange for them retrieving money from their shipowners.

But while they described Garfanji has “tall and muscly,” Moore describes him as a heavy set man that looked little like Duulaay, who he believes may have been killed in a shootout over his ransom.

“Poverty is Slavery”

As for Garfanji’s motive for moving from hostage-taking to aiding terrorist groups, it is likely to be financial, says the U.N.’s Cole: “there’s no particular reason why that means that he’s sympathetic with them but he must know who they are.”

That would fit with the profile of top pirates that hostage negotiators have had to barter with. A hostage negotiator who has worked on more than a dozen piracy cases tells Newsweek that the characteristics of Somali pirates like Garfanji include being “brilliant entrepreneurs” and “pragmatic” in terms of “religious observation and getting a deal done.”

Moore agrees that Garfanji fits this profile. “Pirate bosses are businessmen, so they keep a portfolio of investments, normally in businesses that require armed men or help them launder money,” he says, adding that Garfanji has stakes in real estate. “He also maintains a private militia of armed men who can be hired out as security for a town, or bent towards other activities, like piracy or smuggling.”

The bandits’ stream of income from kidnaps and ransoms, some that fetched millions of dollars at the height of piracy, has dried up, with no commercials vessel attacked for five years until April, when the International Maritime Bureau reported four incidents involving pirate skiffs approaching ships.

Increased security and naval patrols have led to a reduction in attacks, forcing pirates to find other forms of income on land, another reason that may explain Garfanji fraternizing with extremists who have slaughtered hundreds of civilians in mass-casualty assaults such as the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, and the 2015 Garissa University College massacre.

“The criminal networks that have been running Somali piracy are still intact, those ashore who are behind and funding the criminals and organized crime to do it largely have not been arrested or changed sides, they are still there,” says John Thompson, senior advisor and founder of Ambrey Risk, a London-based maritime security consultancy.

“They are still organized crime syndicates, but they are just doing slightly different things. They are finding it harder to make money out of piracy, so they are doing more smuggling [of] people, smuggling [of] weapons, smuggling [of] drugs.”

A Somali proverb states that “poverty is slavery.” It appears that pirate figures like Garfanji will now go to even more extreme lengths to get out of it.

Briefing Room

Somalia welcomes 41 nationals released from Indian jails, more to follow

Published

on

The Federal Government of Somalia on Friday welcomed home forty-one nationals who had been in Indian jails for piracy related offences.

The returnees were welcomed at the Mogadishu International Airport by Prime Minister Ali Hassan Khayre and other government officials.

A Voice of America journalist, Harun Maruf said the former detainees were released after negotiations between the two countries.

He added that: “They were part of 120 Somalis arrested by India navy after being suspected of involvement in piracy acts, some have served their jail terms.” Two of them are said to have died in prison.

The Prime Minister later wrote on Twitter that the government will continue to do all it takes to return Somalis languishing in jails outside the country. Reports indicate that 77 others will be freed in the coming months.

The Somali government in 2017 secured the release of over twenty of its nationals held in neighbouring Ethiopia’s jails.

The government was also instrumental in the release of a top Somali journalist who was jailed in Ethiopia.

The Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo government, however, attracted public outrage by handing over a Somali national to the Ethiopian government.

A move that was slammed by Somalis and by human rights groups who claimed Mogadishu had virtually handed him over to be tortured.

Continue Reading

Piracy

What is happening to Africa’s pirates?

Published

on

MODERN African pirates prefer machetes, machineguns and ransoms to cutlasses and parrots. They can make millions of dollars from one captured ship.

Ten years ago Somalia’s coast was the centre of the maritime-hijacking world. The country lacked a coastguard or functioning state machinery, which allowed heavily armed pirates to sail up to huge cargo vessels in speedboats before boarding and taking crew and ship hostage. But 2017 was not a good year for buccaneers.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), which monitors crime at sea, global piracy and robbery at sea dipped to their lowest points in over two decades. So what is happening to Africa’s pirates?

The peak years of the Somali piracy crisis were 2007 to 2012. Attacks across the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea took place nearly daily. In 2011 there were 237 attacks in the region, reportedly costing businesses and insurers $8.3bn (£5.1bn). Recently, however, Somali piracy has plummeted.
According to the IMB, just nine vessels were hijacked off the Somali coast last year. This is in part because regional security has improved dramatically. The Gulf of Aden leads to the Suez canal, through which roughly 10% of global trade flows. After scores of kidnaps and hijackings, the world launched a huge naval anti-piracy effort in 2008.

For the first time since the second world war, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council deployed forces together, with the aim of countering the threat and patrolling the Somali coastline. Along with the introduction of armed guards, barbed wire and evasive-manoeuvre training on merchant ships, this campaign has slashed the number of successful boarding incidents off Somalia, according to Henry MacHale at Aspen Insurance.

Somali pirates may have hung up their Kalashnikovs for now, but on the other side of Africa, piracy off the Nigerian coast is increasing. In 2017, 33 incidents of piracy and robbery at sea, successful or otherwise, were reported within 12 nautical miles of the coastline.

In 2011 there were ten. Ultra-violent Nigerian pirates armed with heavy machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades are often behind the attacks. Somali pirates usually board vessels, then drop anchor and hold them until they get ransom money.

Nigerian pirates are different. They move fast, take part in ferocious gun-battles and snatch victims off ships before retreating into the Niger Delta’s maze of rivers, where it is very difficult for security forces to find them.

The number of kidnappings is also sky-high. According to the IMB, 65 of the 75 crew members kidnapped in 2017 were taken in or around Nigerian waters.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches from Gabon to Liberia, has not reached the levels it did off Somalia. But Cyrus Mody from the IMB suggests that the figures underplay the danger.

The IMB’s data do not include attacks on fishing craft or ferries, which are certainly being terrorised by the pirates. Additionally, it seems likely that operators are not reporting some incidents.

“Over the years [the Nigerian pirates] haven’t been arrested or prosecuted it seems,” says Mr Mody. “Ship owners have lost trust in the system.” By reporting an incident they risk suffering violent attacks on their ships in future. So they stay quiet.

Continue Reading

Briefing Room

Piracy, armed robbery against ships falls to two-decade low: report

Published

on

NAIROBI – A total of 180 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery were reported in 2017, the lowest annual number of incidents since 1995 when 188 reports were received, a global maritime body said on Wednesday.

The latest report released in London by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reveals that pirates boarded 136 vessels in 2017, while there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 vessels fired upon and six vessels hijacked.
Despite the fall, the global maritime body cautioned foreign vessels/masters not to be complacent as they transit the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

“Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers. The Nigerian authorities have intervened in a number of incidents helping to prevent incidents from escalating,” said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB.

According to IMB, in 15 separate incidents, 91 crew members were taken hostage and 75 were kidnapped from their vessels in 13 other incidents. Three crew members were killed in 2017 and six injured.
In 2016, a total of 191 incidents were reported, with 150 vessels boarded and 151 crew members taken hostage.
The report also called on shipmasters to follow the industry’s Best Management Practices and continue to remain vigilant as they sail through waters off Somalia.

The report said nine incidents were recorded off Somalia in 2017, up from two in 2016. In November, a container ship was attacked by armed pirates approximately 280 nautical miles east of Somali capital Mogadishu.
The pirates, unable to board the vessel due to the ship’s evasive maneuvering fired two RPG rockets, both of which missed, before retreating.

The IMB said six Somali pirates were subsequently detained by European Union Naval Force, transferred to the Seychelles and charged with “committing an act of piracy” where they face up to 30 years’ imprisonment, if convicted.
“This dramatic incident, alongside our 2017 figures, demonstrates that Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to launch attacks against merchant vessels hundreds of miles from their coastline,” Mukundan said.
According to IMB, there were 36 reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea last year with no vessels hijacked in this area and 10 incidents of kidnapping involving 65 crew members in or around Nigerian waters. Globally 16 vessels reported being fired upon — including seven in the Gulf of Guinea.

The drop in piracy incidents is however a relief to shipping companies using the Indian Ocean that had in previous years been the target of pirates, often paying heavy ransom to secure release of their vehicles and the crew.
The African maritime industry, along the Indian Ocean had until 2013 been greatly affected by piracy that raised the costs of shipping as insurance companies and private ship security companies increased their premiums to mitigate the risks.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

TRENDING