MOGADISHU, (Reuters) – Islamist militants in Somalia took steps on Saturday to attack pirates behind the world’s biggest hijack and rescue the captured Saudi Arabian supertanker, an Islamist spokesman said.
The Sirius Star is carrying $100 million worth of oil and a 25-man crew from the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Poland and Britain. It is thought to be anchored offshore near Haradheere, about half-way up Somalia’s long coastline.
One faction of the Islamists has vowed to attack the gang holding the tanker, in retaliation for them seizing a “Muslim” vessel. “We have arranged our fighters,” Islamist spokesman Abdirahim Isse Adow told Reuters on Saturday. “The first step is to cut off pirates inland from those on the Saudi ship by restricting their supplies and cutting their communications.” But the militants — who have been battling Somalia’s Western-backed government for nearly two years and have slowly advanced on the capital Mogadishu — are split.
Haradheere residents said another group of Islamists had arrived in the town, apparently with less noble intentions. “A group of Islamists met some of the pirates here and asked for a share of the ransom,” one local man, who gave his name as Farah, told Reuters by telephone. “The pirates promised them something after the ransom was paid. But there is no deal so far.”
An upsurge of attacks off Somalia this year has forced up shipping insurance costs, made some firms go round South Africa instead of via the Suez Canal, brought millions in ransom payments and prompted an international naval response.
On Friday, Kenya said it believed Somali pirates had received more than $150 million in ransoms this year alone.
Andrew Mwangura of the regional East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said ransom talks were continuing. “The talks are going well. That is, they have not stalled, but it is very difficult getting any information at all about that ship,” he told Reuters.
The Islamist rebels have sworn to stamp out piracy if they win power and deny they are in cahoots with the sea gangs. But some analysts say the militants benefit from spoils and arms shipments provided by the sea gangs. Analysts also accuse government figures of collaborating with the pirates.
Somalia has been without effective central government since the 1991 toppling of a military dictator by warlords. Ethiopian military forces are supporting the interim government.
In the latest violence, seven children were killed on Saturday when a mortar shell that locals said was fired by Ethiopian troops exploded on a Mogadishu sports field. “The children were playing football. Three of our children were killed and four other children from our neighbours were also killed,” witness Ahmed Ali Omar told Reuters Television.