Somali Pirates Thrive After U.S. Helped Oust Their Islamic Foes

Posted on April 12, 2009

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Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — International patrols at sea have done little to stop pirates from menacing ships off the coast of Somalia. Even less is being done to thwart them on land — and for that the brigands may want to thank an unintended consequence of the U.S.’s war on terror.

In 2006, militant supporters of the Islamic Courts Union, an alliance of Sharia tribunals, won control of Somalia and imposed religious law.

“Under the Courts, there was literally no piracy,” says Hans Tino Hansen, chief executive of Risk Intelligence, a maritime security consultant in Denmark.

Then the U.S. helped drive out the Muslim rulers to prevent the East African country from becoming a terrorist haven, leaving behind a lawless chaos in which piracy has flourished.

“It’s a bad mistake to look at Somali events through the prism of international politics,” says Richard Cornwell, an Institute for Security Studies researcher in Pretoria. “The U.S. turned an internal Somali conflict into part of the global war on terror.”

Now, Cornwell says, the West is making the same mistake with piracy by focusing more on battling it at sea than on pushing feuding Somali factions toward a settlement. And with Islamist militiamen again poised to seize the capital, Mogadishu, there’s little chance they will be able to control the outlaws this time.

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