An explosion of piracy this month off the coast of Somalia is funding a growing insurgency onshore as the hijackers funnel hefty ransom payments to Islamist rebels, a maritime official said on Sunday.Of course, there is this Newsweek piece that asserts that the Islamists, when temporarily in control of Somalia, halted piracy:
The spike in attacks at sea has coincided with a rise in assaults on land by radical al-Shabaab insurgents, including the capture on Friday 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."
The U.S. War on Terror has produced yet another unintended consequence. Two years ago piracy in the Horn of Africa was almost stamped out. The Islamists who took over Mogadishu and parts of Somalia in 2006 defeated several militias involved in piracy and warned others that they'd face punishment under a harsh version of Sharia. This tactic worked: "During the summer of 2006 there were no attacks [on ships] at all," says Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB.Power and money. And a lot of water.
But the Bush administration—which had tried to block the Islamists' rise by supporting a rival warlord faction—suspected Somalia's new leaders of sheltering Qaeda operatives. So Washington backed neighboring Ethiopia when it invaded in December 2006. The Ethiopians ousted the Islamists in short order and installed a U.N.-backed transitional government. But this only plunged Somalia into anarchy once more. Today the government can't even control the capital, let alone the country.
Whereas the Islamists managed to enforce a period of relative calm, now dozens of militias are battling for power once more. The pirates, some backed by warlords affiliated with the transitional government, have exploited the chaos.
The real trick is spotting the pirates before they strike. The Gulf of Aden, which separates the Horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula, is crowded with small fishing boats and motorized cargo dhows that provide easy cover. The buccaneers typically disguise themselves, pile aboard a large dhow and then sail up to 240km out to sea in search of slow-moving, low-hulled prey. Having spotted a target, they launch two or three motorized skiffs, use ropes and grappling hooks to climb aboard, and subdue the crew, using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Former hostages report that the bandits mix the modern and the medieval. They've been known to slaughter goats to roast on captured ships and spend much of their time chewing the narcotic leaf khat. But they also use GPS devices, satellite phones and spies in nearby ports such as Dubai and Djibouti to find their victims.