Belgium traps Somali pirate chief with lure of stardom

Published: Oct 15, 2013, 23:25 IST | AFP

Belgium has arrested a notorious Somali pirate chief after luring him to Brussels on promises of shooting a documentary movie about his life on the high seas, prosecutors have said

Federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said Mohamed Abdi Hassan, better known as "Afweyne" or "Big Mouth", was being held in the Belgian city of Bruges after being detained at Brussels airport Saturday when he stepped off a flight from Nairobi.

Afweyne and his powerful accomplice, Mohamed Aden "Tiiceey", the former governor of Somalia's self-proclaimed Himan and Heeb statelet, were facing charges of kidnapping, piracy and organised crime, the prosecutor yesterday said in a statement he read to the press in French and Dutch.

The charges followed the 2009 capture of a Belgian ship, the Pompei, seized and held by pirates off the Somali coast for more than 70 days. 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.

A UN report has described him as one of the lynch-pins in the piracy business which made a fortune attacking dozens of merchant vessels between 2008 and 2013. The Pompei was captured by dozens of pirates 700 miles off Somalia in the Indian Ocean. The nine crew-members, including two Belgian officers and the Dutch captain, were held in gruelling conditions until a ransom was dropped by parachute.

An enquiry led to the arrest and conviction of two of the pirates, one sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2011, the other to nine years in 2012. But the Belgian prosecutor's office had not let up its determination to bring to book the people "behind this act of piracy, who ordered, financed and organised logistical backup," Delmulle said.

In the case of the Pompei, Belgian police suspected Afweyne of organising and financing the attack after questioning one of the officers and hearing evidence from some of the pirates. As he was a resident of Somalia and rarely travelled, police "elaborated an infiltration operation aimed at arresting Afweyne outside of Somalia," the prosecutor 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 awaited and taken into custody," the prosecutor said.  

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