Thursday, April 16, 2009

Somalia News Update: PM Requests Assistance; US Plots Next Move; Students Harrassed in Minnesota

Somali PM asks for more help to fight pirates


MOMBASA, Kenya – Somalia's prime minister says his government has identified many pirate leaders and would be willing to share that information with other countries, including the United States, to get the resources needed to go after them.

Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, speaking Thursday to The Associated Press in an exclusive interview, said the pirates have become so wealthy and powerful that they threaten his government.

"We have information on who is behind this, who is involved," Sharmarke said in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. "There is a lot of money flowing in ... we are following very closely how money is distributed here."

He was referring to the fact that Somali pirates can earn $1 million or more in ransom for each hijacked ship. Forty-two ships were hijacked by Somali pirates last year, and so far 19 have been taken this year.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday announced new diplomatic efforts to freeze the pirates' assets and said the Obama administration will work with shippers and insurers to improve their defenses against pirates.

"These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped," Clinton said in Washington.

Clinton did not call for military force, although she mentioned "going after" pirate bases in Somalia. She urged the U.S. and others to "explore ways to track and freeze" pirate ransom money and other funds used in purchases of new boats, weapons and communications equipment.

Sharmarke said the Somali government was presenting a plan to envoys from the European Union, the United States and a regional authority to fight pirates by building up military forces and establishing intelligence-gathering posts along its coastline.

"The best way to actually deal with this is to prevent (the pirates) from going into the waters," Sharmarke said. "We are planning to establish at least ten or more observation posts on the coastline."

Still, it was not clear how this plan could cover the 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer) Somali coastline, since his government controls only a few square blocks of the capital, Mogadishu, with the aid of African peacekeepers.

Donors have also been reluctant to fund a government with little accountability but the recent spike in piracy attacks may change that. Somali pirates are holding more than 280 foreign crewmen captive on 15 ships — at least 76 of those sailors captured in recent days.

Meanwhile, the American sea captain held hostage for five days by pirates reached port in Kenya on Thursday, hours after his crew held a joyous reunion with their families at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Capt. Richard Phillips of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama cargo ship was brought into Mombasa harbor aboard the USS Bainbridge, which docked to the music of "Sweet Home Alabama" — the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit that includes the words "I'm coming home to you."

Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, gave himself up as a hostage to ensure the safety of his crew. He was freed Sunday by Navy SEAL sharpshooters who killed his three captors.

Phillips planned to spend Thursday night on the Bainbridge, according to Maersk shipping line spokesman Gordan van Hook. He would not say when Phillips planned to fly home but a charter plane is reportedly on standby at Mombasa airport.

There were hugs, tears and a massive sense of relief when the crew of the Maersk Alabama finally reunited with loved ones after arriving at 1 a.m. Thursday at Andrews.

One crewman, carrying a child toward the terminal, shouted, "I'm happy to see my family!" Another exclaimed, "God bless America."

Also Thursday, another U.S. cargo ship, the Liberty Sun, arrived in Mombasa, its bridge damaged by rocket-propelled grenades and its windows shattered by gunfire after a pirate attack Tuesday.

The Liberty Sun's 20 American crew members crew successfully blockaded themselves in the engine room and warded off the attack with evasive maneuvers. The ship had been carrying food aid for Africans.

The European Union said Thursday it is boosting its anti-piracy fleet off the Somali coast to 11 ships, with the addition of three Swedish frigates in May. Its main task is to escort cargo ships carrying U.N. World Food Program aid to hungry Somalis.

Nearly a dozen countries, including the United States, have anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast.

The Gulf of Aden, which links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, is the shortest route from Asia to Europe. More than 20,000 ships cross the vital sea lane every year.
Associated Press writers contributing this report include Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia; Tom Maliti in Mombasa, Katharine Houreld, Michelle Faul, Malkhadir M. Muhumed and Todd Pitman in Nairobi, Kenya; and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels.

US announces steps to counter piracy off Somalia

Posted: 4/16/2009 1:31:00 PM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

WASHINGTON(Sh. M. Network)---The US will seek an immediate international meeting to broaden efforts against piracy off the coast of Somalia, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Wednesday.

Hindustan Times reported, Clinton said that previous steps to counter piracy have not been enough, pointing to the recent surge of assaults on commercial shipping and hostage taking in the Indian Ocean, including last week's seizure of an American-flagged vessel.

"These pirates are criminals. They are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped, and those who have carried them out must be brought to justice," Clinton said.

The United States has already helped established an international contact group on piracy that includes a coalition of navies to patrol the waters near Somalia. But the US military has said the area is too large to effectively patrol and the pirates have become more emboldened, expanding their reach hundreds of kilometres off the coast of Somalia.

The United States will send an envoy to a meeting in Brussels April 23 designed to help strengthen development, governance and policing in Somalia in order to prevent attacks, Clinton said.

US diplomats will engage Somali officials and regional leaders to explore ways to work together, and will also reach out to shipping companies to contemplate stronger security measures, Clinton said.

"Our envoy will work with other partners to help the Somalis assist us in cracking down on pirate bases and in decreasing incentives for young Somali men to engage in piracy," she said.

In the last year, more than 60 ships have been seized by pirates demanding a ransom in return for the cargo and crew. The trend gained heightened attention last week when pirates took control of the US-flagged Maersk Alabama. The American crew fought off the pirates, but not before the captain, Richard Phillips, was taken by the perpetrators onto a life boat.

After a standoff lasting several days, three US Navy SEAL snipers fired three shots from the nearby USS Bainbridge, killing the three pirates and rescuing Phillips.

FBI continues questioning U. Minnesota students on missing Somali men

By Ibrahim Hirsi
April 15, 2009
Source: Minnesota Daily, U. Minnesota

The disappearances of young Somali men from Minneapolis, including two students from the University of Minnesota, have resulted in numerous students being questioned by the FBI, both on and off campus.

The federal agents have been visiting students in high schools, colleges and the University for information about the missing Somali men.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling on colleges to provide more legal help for students and also says students have been approached by the FBI while walking to class and in the library. Students have also received calls from investigators.

Political science, public health and global studies junior Ruqia Mohamed, who went to high school with some of the disappeared, spoke about her experience with the FBI.

Earlier this year, officials came to Mohamed’s house in Minneapolis. She described them as “random and at the same time spooky.”

Mohamed said the FBI agents were “two young girls dressed casual, unlike those I see on TV.” They came into her house with pictures of missing men and local mosques in the Twin Cities.

During the interview, they asked about the Abubakar As-Saddiq mosque and “showed me pictures of the mosque leaders.”

Mohamed was calm during an interview with the Daily until she started talking about the questions she was asked about the disappeared men.

“They asked me about how [one of the two missing men from the University] used to dress and the mosques he attended,” she said.

Her smiling face suddenly changed as she asked if such questions are “relevant.”

“Mosques were built for prayers,” Mohamed said she told the investigators, “and every Muslim goes to mosques.”

Mohamed said she was not surprised the FBI met her since her friend was also questioned.

The federal agents knocked at her door during President Barack Obama’s inauguration. They said they were curious if anybody was planning attacks in Washington.

“We are Americans and we voted for Obama,” Mohamed said. “Why would we bomb his inauguration?”

Mohamed said she asked the authorities to call her or meet her somewhere else.

“They are terrorizing the whole family. My brother is only 11,” she said. He asks her if she did something wrong or if she was a bad person, Mohamed added.

Difficulties finding a lawyer

Mohamed first called the Council on American-Islamic Relations to get a lawyer. CAIR couldn’t help Mohamed because their lawyers were busy, she said.

She then called the University’s Student Legal Service . Mohamed said the person who answered her call sounded like they knew all about the story and did not bother explaining what the issue was. The person immediately said they’d get back to them, Mohamed said.

“They didn’t get back to me until now,” she said Tuesday.

Luis Bartolomei, staff attorney for Student Legal Service, declined to talk about the issue because of confidentiality.

“I don’t know why they did not help me,” Mohamed said. “I’m a full-time student,” she said about being eligible for help.

“Maybe I’m not important to them,” she added.

But Bartolomei said the Student Legal Service is prepared to help all students and to empower them with as much information as possible.

“The students need to understand they have the rights to not speak to the law enforcement,” he added.

Mohamed eventually found a public defender, she said, who at first didn’t know the details of her case.

FBI hunts at U. Minnesota

Reports from the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Somali students have reported finding authorities waiting on campus.

The council claims the students have been approached by the FBI while walking to classes and have received calls from investigators.

“We are not in a position to keep any law enforcement from the campus,” said legal service’s Bartolomei. They can teach what the student’s rights are, he added.

The president of the Somali Student Association, Fathi Gelle , said a “friend” from the University Police Department asked her to talk to a federal agent.

“It was a friendly request,” she said.

University Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner confirmed Gelle’s account of the meeting.

She said he reminded her it was my right not to talk to them.

“But since I’m leader of the association, I felt I should educate them about SSA,” she said.

The association holds educational, cultural and religious events.

Gelle said the meeting had nothing to do with if she knew the men.

“It was all about the SSA and its activities,” she said.

But they asked if the disappeared were involved in the association.

“I told them they were members,” she said. “Of course, they are Somalis.”

Speaking of her perspective, Gelle said it is “wrong that the FBI is approaching the students in the campus.” But she said students should not talk to them if they think they might say something that will haunt them later.

At first, she said many people first volunteered information to the FBI, but only some have been repeatedly questioned.

The FBI did not return a call for comment on this story.

Pirates questioned in France

Posted: 4/15/2009 9:27:00 PM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

PARIS (Sh. M. Network) ----French police were questioning on Wednesday three Somali pirates who were brought to France after being captured by commandos during a hostage rescue operation in the Indian Ocean.

French Special Forces captured the trio on April 10 when they stormed the yacht Tanit to rescue its French crew from hostage takers. Two pirates and the boat's French captain were killed during the rescue.

France has promised to take a tough line on pirates caught by its forces in the waters off East Africa, scene of a rash of recent attacks on shipping.

State prosecutors in the western French city of Rennes said the Somali gunmen were being interrogated by police intelligence officers. Defence Minister Herve Morin said on Tuesday they would face trial in France.

The body of the dead skipper, 28-year-old Florent Lemacon, has also arrived in Rennes, where it is due to undergo a post mortem examination on Thursday. The prosecutors? office said results would be released on Friday.

It is not yet clear whether Lemacon was shot dead accidentally by the French rescue team or executed by his captors.

Four other hostages, including Lemacon's three-year-old son, were rescued, just days before a similar American operation to free a cargo ship's captain.

On Monday, the French navy handed the bodies of the two pirates shot dead by snipers during the assault to authorities in Somalia's Puntland region. - AFP

Islamist official killed in Mogadishu

Posted: 4/16/2009 4:39:00 PM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) ---Islamist commander from the Islamic Courts Union that works with new Somali government led by president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed has been killed in Mogadishu by armed groups, witnesses told Shabelle Media on Thursday.

Witnesses said armed gunmen opened fire on the car of deceased Islamist commander Sharif Mohamud Hassan(Kariye) near former Match and Cigarette Factory Street in Mogadishu.

The commander and one of his security guards were killed in the attack and a civilian woman was also injured in the incident.

It is not known why the commander has been killed but there has been dispute between Somalia’s Islamist groups recently.

French forces detain 11 pirates off Kenya

Posted: 4/16/2009 1:46:00 AM
Shabelle: SOMALIA

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network)--French Defense Ministry says it detained 11 Somali pirates during a French assault on a pirate "mother ship" and thwarted a pirate attack on a Liberian-registered vessel, AFP reported on Wednesday.

The ministry says French forces launched an attack on a 30-foot (10-meter) long pirate mother ship early Wednesday after observing the pirates overnight.

The 11 pirates are being held upon the Nivose, a French frigate taking part in a European mission to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden. A French surveillance helicopter spotted the pirates' mother ship Tuesday.

The ship was intercepted 550 miles (900 kilometers) east of the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Washington Wrestles With Piracy Question on Sea and Land

Inside Somalia, News Editorial
Tuesday, 14 April 2009 14:28

The celebrating over Sunday's daring rescue of Richard Phillips, the ship captain held hostage by Somali pirates, didn't last too long at the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged Monday that the kind of Navy snipers who took out the three captors are only a stopgap way of dealing with pirates now sailing the Gulf of Aden. "There is no purely military solution to it," Gates told an audience of the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va. "It is a serious international problem, and it's probably going to get worse."

There's been talk in the Pentagon of dispatching more warships to the region to beef up protective patrols. And President Barack Obama talked tough on Monday, saying, "I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region." But Gates made it clear that the real solution isn't on the high seas. Instead, it's back along the Somali coast in the impoverished villages and towns that the pirates call home. "As long as you've got this incredible number of poor people and the risks are relatively small," he said, "there's really no way in my view to control it unless you get something on land that begins to change the equation for these kids."

Responsibility for changing that equation belongs to the new U.S. African Command (Africom), set up 18 months ago to help provide security to permit the rebuilding of shattered nations like Somalia. But don't look for quick action. "We do not have a military presence in Somalia," the command's chief, Army General William Ward, told Congress last month. In fact, the military's in no rush to head back to that lawless nation in the Horn of Africa. That's where President Clinton's Pentagon was first bloodied when 18 soldiers died in a 1993 firefight memorialized in Black Hawk Down. As a reminder of the volatile environment, local insurgents on Monday fired mortar rounds at a private plane ferrying U.S. Congressman Donald Payne out of Mogadishu after he had visited with the head of the country's weak new transitional government.

Even if the Pentagon had the stomach for this kind of fight, the confused command structure for the region would make it hard to succeed. You might think, after all, that Africom would be front and center in battling the piracy now rampant off Somalia's coast. But in fact Africom deals only with African territory, and not the seas surrounding it. Those are monitored by U.S. Central Command, also responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This disconnect — Centcom if by sea, Africom if by land — highlights the challenge facing the Pentagon as it tries to grapple with 21st century pirates who thrive amid chaos.

Africom's only role in battling pirates is helping Centcom hand over the captured ones — 130 so far this year — to east African nations for trial. Africom still has a lot of kinks to work out. At that House hearing on March 19, Ward acknowledged that he has only a "very small command" — headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany — to deal with Africa, and not a soul on Somali soil. But things are getting better. "Every day improvements are made," Ward said. "I count it a victory when I can pick up the phone or — and send an e-mail and it goes to the same address, and we are getting more and more that way."

The growing piracy problem highlights Gates' smarts — it was only a week ago that he boosted the Navy's buy of the small and fast Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) from two to three next year, with a total planned buy of 55. The defense chief termed the LCS "a key capability for presence, stability and counterinsurgency operations in coastal regions." With its ability to sail into shallow waters, an LCS vessel can chase pirates into places bigger warships could never go. The LCS is "an ideal platform" for unconventional Navy missions, including "counterpiracy operations," Rear Admiral Victor Guillory, director of the Navy's surface-warfare division, told a House panel on March 10. But at 400 feet in length and $500 million each — and initial production plagued by problems — the Navy's not going to be able to buy enough to stamp out piracy anytime soon.

The pirates, largely from lawless coastal Somali towns, have basically turned the heavily traveled route through the Gulf of Aden into a toll road that shippers' insurance firms have been willing to pay for (up to $3 million for a single vessel). About 20,000 merchant ships traverse the waterway each year; there have already been 74 attacks and 15 hijackings in 2009, compared with 111 attacks last year.

The pirates generally have wanted cash, not trouble. They've treated their hostages well, and violence has been rare. All of that changed, of course, last week when a quartet of Somalis seized Phillips from the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama. In the wake of the U.S. action, some pirates and Somali warlords pledged to take revenge on some of the more than 200 international sailors currently being held captive on the seas.

Somalia's extreme poverty and lack of effective central government make it an ideal breeding ground for piracy, and the Cold War's end helped make it possible. Like Afghanistan, Somalia was a rope for decades in a tug-of-war between the Soviet Union and the United States, abandoned and left to rot as the superpower rivalry ebbed. It's the latest warning that the 21st century's dangers are more likely to come from failed states and their desperate young men, rather than modern militaries boasting flotillas of warships, formations of tanks and fleets of aircraft.

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