NAIROBI, Kenya—After years of wreaking havoc on the open ocean, Somali pirates are being squeezed on land and sea by authorities and a militant group looking to put them out of business.
Security forces in northern Somalia arrested a prominent pirate on a U.S. government watchlist during a raid against 12 pirates, an official said Thursday.
The raid in the northern region of Puntland is another worry for pirates, who already face arrest by international warships off the coast of East Africa. Pirates also fled a den in northern Somalia last month after militants moved into the town of Haradhere, though the EU Naval Force says pirates continue to operate there.
“Pirates are being challenged everywhere,” said Abdirahman Badiyo, a history professor at Mogadishu University. “They are on the run. And they are most likely regrouping and reorganizing.” The gang of 12 arrested Tuesday was targeted in an operation aimed at cracking down on pirates in the relatively calm Puntland, where politicians are accused of helping seajackers and taking a cut of the ransoms, said Abdi Hirsi Qarjab, the governor of Nugal region.
Abshir Abdillahi, who is also known as Abshir Boyah, was captured as he tried to flee the town of Garowe, Qarjab said. He said $29,500 in cash and two pistols were recovered from his car. Three other cars belonging to the brigands were also seized. Boyah was one of the founders of the piracy trade in the region and continued to invest in it despite recent claims that he had sworn off piracy, Qarjab said.
Qarjab said he recently met with a NATO commander onboard a warship and they discussed how Somali authorities and NATO officials can complement each other in their efforts against pirates. “There is a cooperation between us and the countries that sent warships to Somali waters to fight piracy,” said Qarjab. “We will do everything to end piracy business in our region.” The U.S. Treasury Department last month froze the assets of nearly a dozen suspected Islamist militants in Somalia, including the 44-year-old Abdillahi’s. Qarjab said authorities had no plan to hand him over to the U.S.
“The court will decide their fate,” he said, adding that the U.S. action had no bearing on Tuesday’s arrest. “Boyah is a well-known pirate. He is a threat to our security and that is why we captured him together with others,” Qarjab said. Boyah was transferred to a prison in the town of Bossaso, where nearly 400 pirates are being held. The region’s president, Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, promised last year to end piracy in the area, and authorities have since arrested dozens of pirates.
President Barack Obama gave Treasury officials broader power last month to deal with a deteriorating security situation in Somalia by allowing them to sanction or freeze the assets of individuals involved in piracy off Somalia’s coast or militants who have done anything to threaten the shaky nation’s stability. The executive order targets anyone who threatens the peace, interferes with the delivery of humanitarian assistance or violates the United Nations arms embargo in the lawless nation.
Puntland, which declared itself an autonomous state within Somalia in 1998, has generally been spared the violence that has wracked much of the country’s southern and central regions. But pirates use the region as a base of operations.
The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in anarchy since 1991, allowing piracy to flourish off its shores.