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Piracy

Belgian bluff lures in alleged Somali pirate kingpin

Police in Brussels say they have caught a leading Somali pirate in a rather unusual sting. The supposed swashbuckler was lured onto European soil with false promises of cooperating on a piracy documentary.

Belgian authorities said on Monday that they had arrested suspected Somali pirate Abdi Hassan, more commonly known as Afweyne, and an alleged accomplice, after fooling them into coming to the country voluntarily.

Prosecutor Johan Delmulle said that Hassan and Mohamed Aden traveled to Belgium under the impression that they would be expert advisers on a film about high-seas crime. This documentary was the stuff of fiction.

Delmulle said Hassan was charged with membership in a criminal organization and more specificially with hijacking the Belgian dredger Pompei in 2009 and kidnapping its crew of nine. After two months, the ship was released in exchange for a ransom.

"[He's] one of the most important and infamous kingpin pirate leaders, responsible for the hijacking of dozens of commercial vessels from 2008 to 2013," Delmulle said in a statement. A UN report last year similarly referred to Hassan as "one of the most notorious and influential leaders" among pirates in Somalia.

Silver screen swindle

The alleged pirate mastermind, whose nickname Afweyne translates as "big mouth," announced his retirement earlier this year.

The authorities approached Afweyne through his associate Aden, nicknamed "Tiiceey," saying that they wanted the pirate boss "to collaborate as an advisor and expert on a film project on maritime piracy." Delmulle said it took several months to persuade the pair to travel to Belgium.

Two people have been tried and convicted for involvement in the 2009 hijacking of the Pompei, but prosecutor Delmulle said authorities suspect Hassan "ordered, financed and organized logistical backup" for the operation.

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels welcomed the arrest.

"While fully respecting the principle of presumption of innocence, we consider that this arrest marks a significant step in the fight against piracy," Ashton's spokesman Sebastien Brabant said.

The two Somalis were due to appear in court in Bruges on Tuesday. Piracy has become a major source of income for some parts of largely lawless Somalia since its central government collapsed in 1991.

msh/ph (AFP, AP, dpa)