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Somali pirate 'Big Mouth' nabbed

15 October 2013, 08:14

Brussels - One of Somalia's most notorious pirate leaders, known as "Big Mouth", is under arrest facing charges of kidnapping and piracy after being tricked into travelling to Belgium, the prosecution said on Monday.

Federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said Mohamed Abdi Hassan, known as "Afweyne" or "Big Mouth", was being held in Bruges after being detained at Brussels airport on Saturday on disembarking from a flight from Nairobi.

He was arrested along with his accomplice, Mohamed Aden Tiiceey, former governor of Himan and Heeb state in central Somalia, the prosecutor said, reading a statement to the press in French and Dutch.

Both Afweyne and Tiiceey were facing charges of kidnapping and piracy in the case of the 2009 capture of a Belgian ship, the Pompei, which was seized and held by pirates off the Somali coast for more than 70 days.

Belgian investigators had been working for years to bring the men behind such crimes to book and lured the notorious pirate to Brussels in a scheme that took months, the prosecutor said.

Because Afweyne lived in Somalia and rarely travelled, Belgian police "elaborated an infiltration operation aimed at arresting Afweyne outside of Somalia," he said.

"The plan was to approach Afweyne through the intermediary of his accomplice named Tiiceey," his statement added.

"Via Tiiceey, Afweyne was asked to collaborate as an advisor and expert on a film project on maritime piracy. The film was supposed to reflect his life as a pirate."

But when Afweyne and Tiiceey landed on Saturday morning to sign the movie contract, "they were expected and taken into custody," the prosecutor said.

Afweyne announced in Mogadishu in January that he was quitting piracy after a highly profitable eight-year career. He said he was working to persuade other pirates to do the same.

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Described last year by the UN as "one of the most notorious and influential leaders" in Somalia's pirate hub, he notably was involved in the 2008 capture of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star oil supertanker, released for a ransom of several million dollars.

He also reportedly took part in the 2008 capture of the MV Faina, a Ukrainian transport ship carrying 33 refurbished Soviet-era battle tanks, which was released after a 134-day hijack for a reported three million dollars.

In a quick reaction, a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the arrests as a new breakthrough in the fight to stop piracy off the Somali coast.

"We welcome the arrest of Mohamed Abdi Hassan, alias Afweyne, one of the main suspected sponsors of Somali piracy, by Belgian authorities," said spokesperson Sebastien Brabant.

"While fully respecting the principle of presumption of innocence, we consider that this arrest marks a significant step in the fight against piracy.

"It demonstrates that law enforcement authorities can now track not only the pirates themselves, but also the leaders of these criminal networks, who benefit most from pirate attacks."

The European Union heads the Eunavfor Atalanta sea operation against piracy which has helped stem attacks. There have been no successful captures of ships since May 2012 and Somali authorities too have made progress on land.



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