Somalia’s Piracy Compromises Its Neighbors
As spelled out by the U.N., Al-Shabaab in Somalia cultivated allies in the Eritrean party-state for a proxy war against Ethiopia, which the Somali jihadists accuse of controlling Somalia’s feeble government. In March 2012, Ethiopia sent troops across the Eritrean border to shut down three bases training armed combatants against Ethiopia, the first confrontation between the two countries since 2000. Further, a so-called “Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS)” operates from Eritrea. As the U.N. disclosed, “Since the Somali passport is not considered valid for travel to most countries, the Government of Eritrea provided Eritrean passports to ARS leaders, as well as at least one senior Al-Shabaab leader, Mukhtar Roobow.”
Roobow reportedly fought in the ranks of the Afghan Taliban, and worked in Somalia for the Saudi-based Al-Haramain Foundation, declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization in 2004 by the U.S. government. Roobow has served as the chief spokesperson for Al-Shabaab, in cooperation with an Alabama-born Syrian-American jihadist, Omar Shafik Hammami, alias Abu Mansur Al-Amriki (i.e. “the American”). Hammami was president at the University of South Alabama in Mobile branch of the Wahhabi-dominated Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA) when the atrocities of September 11, 2001 occurred. In the following decade, he went to Somalia and joined Al-Shabaab, along with a cohort of Somali-Americans from Minnesota.
The Somali authorities announced that Hammami was killed by a Predator drone in 2011, but the death was never confirmed, and Hammami released an online video mocking the assertion. In May 2012, he posted a new series of jihadist videos, indicating he is still alive. In the meantime, however, he was indicted in federal court in Alabama on terrorism charges, and is wanted by the FBI for "providing material support to a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," namely, Al-Shabaab.
Somali maritime piracy is especially worrisome since significant tanker operations have been transferred by Saudi Arabia from the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, which is vulnerable to Iranian aggression, to old pipelines and terminals on the Red Sea. The UN has noted that “pirate militias” emerged from Somali regions controlled by Al-Shabaab. By providing cover for Al-Shabaab, Eritrea has enabled the expansion of piracy. A useful summary published by Daniel L. Pines of the Central Intelligence Agency, entitled “Maritime Piracy: Changes in U.S. Law Needed to Combat this Critical National Security Concern,” argues that “the United States possesses numerous legal options to combat piracy. However, the actual U.S. effort thus far has been fairly limited. True, its naval ships patrol the oceans around Somalia, but the U.S. strategy, as well as that of other nations patrolling such waters, appears to be mostly one of passive deterrence. Pirates may be attacked if they first attack a vessel in the region, but more likely, once the pirates’ plans are thwarted, the pirates are generally allowed to escape without any major ramifications.”
Pines offers four recommendations for improved U.S. response to piracy. These include increased prosecutions by the United States, enhancement of anti-piracy proceedings by countries near pirate zones (including, for example, Kenya), and eliciting permission for “hot pursuit” of pirates into local territorial waters. Most countries prohibit such entry of their offshore jurisdictions—Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, which authorizes such a response and was supported in doing so by the U.N., being an exception.