Sunday, September 28, 2008

French file hijacking and hostage-taking charges against Somali 'pirates', Al-Shabaab.

French file hijacking and hostage-taking charges against Somali 'pirates' who seized the Carre d'As yacht, Oscar Quine.
French officials have filed preliminary charges for hijacking and hostage-taking against six suspected Somali pirates accused of taking 2 French citizens captive near the Suez canal, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Indictments for armed robbery were also filed against them late yesterday, a judicial official said, adding that the suspects had admitted their role in the incident this month to varying degrees.

The six were captured in a highly choreographed French commando operation to free the hostages. Officers of the DGSE, equivalent to Britain’s MI6, stormed the 50 ft Carré d’As (Four Aces) on September 15, killing one pirate and capturing six others before successfully rescuing the retired French Polynesian couple.

Afterwards, military sources told of the high levels of planning that had gone into the operation. The troops were dropped by parachute some distance from the stationary yacht and swam towards her with night-vision goggles and undetectable breathing systems. They clambered aboard silently with ropes and light grappling hooks, taking the pirates by surprise.

The spike in attacks at sea has coincided with a rise in assaults on land by radical al-Shabaab insurgents, including the capture of Somalia's strategic southern port Kismayu. The United States say al-Shabaab is a terrorist group with close ties to al Qaeda. Experts say some of the businessmen and warlords who command the pirates are also funding the rebels. "The entire Somali coastline is now under control of the Islamists," Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told Reuters in an interview. "According to our information, the money they make from piracy and ransoms goes to support al-Shabaab activities onshore."

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The case follows a similar incident in April, when helicopter-borne French troops swooped in on Somali pirates, after they had released dozens of hostages, and captured six of them.

In a triumphant predawn speech, President Sarkozy, who supervised the attack from the Élysée Palace in Paris, spoke of the extent of the problem and the extent of the threat it posed. "These are not isolated cases, but a fully fledged criminal industry. [It] endangers our fundamental rights, freedom of movement and international trade."

He also called for a unified international response to the problem of Somali pirates, who have hijacked at least 54 ships this year, making the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden the most dangerous in the world. The successful operation was a boon to Mr Sarkozy as he struggles with a faltering economy and low public rating. Following the initial incident, he refused to answer questions on the global financial crisis, saying that he was too tired having been up all night conducting the operation.

Pirates usually travel in high-powered speedboats and are heavily armed. They sometimes hold ships for weeks, with the aim of collecting large ransoms paid by governments or owners. Somalia doesn't have a navy, and its fragile Government has sought international help to fight the problem in the past.

Bill Warner
Private Investigator