Somali Islamists vow to end piracy

2010-05-03 14:14

Mogadishu - A hardline Islamist militia pledged on Monday after seizing control of one of Somalia's main pirate hubs to end piracy in the region by imposing Islamic sharia law.

A day after the Hezb al-Islam captured Harardhere town in the north of the lawless Horn of Africa state, pirates moved away three vessels they are holding, although the militants did not say if they intended to storm the ships.

"From now on Harardhere is one of the Somali towns where Islamic sharia will be implemented," Sheik Ahmed Abu Yahya, a senior Hezb al-Islam commander, said by phone.

"There will be no piracy or any kind of robbery here. From now on people will obey Islamic law," he said, adding: "Our presence here will change the image of this town which the bandits destroyed."

Harardhere is one of the main hideouts for the pirate gangs that have turned the waters off Somalia into a danger zone for foreign vessels, which they capture exclusively for ransom.

Local residents said the three vessels - Seychelles-owned MV Rak Afrikana, a Norwegian chemical tanker and a Kenyan-flagged fishing boat - had been moved up the coast from Harardhere.

"The Islamists have not interfered with us yet but some ships near Harardhere were moved in order to avoid any attempt to interfere," Abdi Yare, a pirate in the coastal town of Hobyo said.

"The Islamists, we cannot trust them. There is not one single pirate in Harardhere today," he added by phone from Hobyo, some 230km further north.

Strict brand of Islam

The Rak Afrikana, registered the Caribbean state of St Vincent and the Grenadines, was hijacked last month in the Indian Ocean with a crew of 23 on board.

The Norwegian tanker, the UBT Ocean, was captured in March with its 21-man crew from Myanmar while the fishing boat MV Sakoba has 16 sailors.

Harardhere fishermen confirmed the three vessels had been moved.

"There were three ships near the coast of Harardhere but this morning we cannot see them, they moved towards Hobyo," said one fisherman, Abdikafar Mohamed.

"I think the pirates are afraid of the Islamists and you cannot see them in town today, they fled, you cannot reach them on their cell phones as most of them headed towards Hobyo," he added.

An Islamist movement that ruled Somalia in the second half of 2006 clamped down on piracy, which was outlawed under their strict brand of Islam that also banned watching films and football.

The movement, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), was defeated by Ethiopian forces in late 2006, but its remnants fought on against the Ethiopians, who pulled out in January 2009.

The Shebab, Hezb al-Islam's ally, was the youth wing of the ICU. Since the Ethiopian withdrawal, its target is the country's Western-backed transitional government.

Residents in Harardhere said the insurgents started patrolling the city on Monday, questioning people about the pirates but made no arrests.