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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's down, Somalia?

The anti-piracy patrol has adopted another new tactic. Warships patrol close to towns and villages the pirates operate from. When pirates are spotted heading for sea, they are intercepted, disarmed and their boat seized. But because of the "catch and release" policy of most nations participating in the anti-piracy patrol, the captured pirates are quickly returned to the beach, where they can rearm and reequip themselves, and set out for sea more carefully, avoiding nearby warships. The anti-piracy patrol has reduced the number of pirate attacks (61 in the first three months of last year, versus 35 this year), but not halted them. The pirates now have to go farther out to sea to find vulnerable targets, and this they are doing. Warships are being more decisive in determining which boats are run by pirates, and making arrests. This has slowed the pirates down, but not stopped them.

A convoy of several hundred al Shabaab gunmen drove to the northern coast (Puntland) to shut down pirate operations. Pirates fled one village, but the hundred or so al Shabaab gunmen has not done much besides defeat one group of local militia defending an inland village.

Al Shabaab has been unable to oust the Transitional Government militias and foreign peacekeepers from Mogadishu. This they want to do before thousands of government security troops, being trained by foreign instructors, are ready for action (in a few months.)

April 26, 2010: In the south, al Shabaab held a public execution of a murderer, and cut off the hand of a man caught stealing mattresses from a truck.
April 25, 2010: In Mogadishu, shelling between government and al Shabaab left nine dead and over 40 wounded.

April 23, 2010: Al Shabaab seized three more towns in central Somalia (all on a road leading to Mogadishu). The towns were nominally controlled by the Sufi militia, Ahlu Sunna wal Jamea, which is allied with the government. But al Shabaab put more fighters into this action, and the al Shabaab gunmen have a reputation for being fearless and deadly.

In the United States, eleven Somali pirates were charged with attacking U.S. warships in the last few weeks. It's unclear exactly how these men will be prosecuted, as most anti-piracy laws were discarded in the last century.
April 21, 2010:  Pirates seized a bulk carrier, 300 kilometers from the Gulf of Aden. Nearly 2000 kilometers off the coast, pirates seized three Thai fishing boats. While these high seas fishing ships have larger crews (2-3 dozen men), they are slower and lower in the water than merchant ships. The anti-piracy patrols are concentrated in the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coast, so the pirates are going where the warships aren't, even though they have to search harder for targets. Some believe that the pirates are buying location data for ships in the area, obtained by bribing shipping or insurance company officials. There's never been any proof of this.

April 20, 2010: Twice in the last week, the Transitional Government has cancelled announced meetings of their parliament. In both cases, this was because of al Shabaab threats to attack. Meanwhile, many of the 550 members of parliament are fleeing the increasingly violent Mogadishu. Anti-corruption controls by foreign donors has kept the legislators from foreign money. In fact, many have not been paid. So there's not much reason to stick around.

In Mogadishu, five headless bodies were found in a part of the city controlled by al Shabaab (which has been known to kill those they suspect of working for the government.)

The government withdrew its order for radio stations to keep playing music, or risk closure. Al Shabaab had earlier ordered radio stations to stop broadcasting music, which the Islamic group considers un-Islamic.

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