BRUSSELS: Belgium has arrested the suspected leader of a Somali pirate group after luring him to Brussels with promises to make a documentary about his money-making life on the high seas, prosecutors said Monday.
Mohammad Abdi Hasan, known as “Afweyne” or “Big Mouth,” was detained when he arrived at Brussels airport Saturday with another suspect identified as Mohammad M. A. or “Tiiceey,” federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle told a news conference.
Tiiceey is a former governor of the Somali region of Himan and Heeb and is suspected of aiding Afweyne’s pirate organization, Delmulle said.
Prosecutors said they decided to involve Belgian undercover agents after it became clear that an international arrest warrant would not be successful in capturing the men.
“After patiently starting a relationship of trust with Tiiceey, and through him with Afweyne, which took several months, both were prepared to participate in this [film] project,” Delmulle said.
The plan was put into action after two pirates were arrested and sentenced for the hijacking of a Belgian ship in 2009. Prosecutors decided to try to target the people behind the act, not only those who carried it out and so set up the sting.
“All too often those persons stay out of the frame and let others carry out their dirty business,” Delmulle added.
The prosecutor said Afweyne was asked via Tiiceey whether he would be prepared to be an adviser on a film about piracy, portraying his life carrying out hijackings off the east African coast and making millions of dollars from ransom payments.
Prosecutors said it took months to reel Afweyne in and persuade him to come to Brussels, but would not provide further details about how the sting was carried out.
Afweyne said in January he had put his pirate days behind him and retired. U.N. experts have accused a former Somali president of shielding him by issuing him a diplomatic passport.
In a separate pirate case, three Somalis went on trial Monday for hijacking a yacht in 2009, which prompted a rescue operation by the French special services in which the skipper died.
French troops stormed the Tanit sailboat on April 10, 2009, and captured the trio in a bid to free Florent Lemacon, his wife, their 3-year-old son and two others. Florent Lemacon died in the operation.
The pirates are now aged between 27 and 31.
“We will prove that they are children and there is a difference between the way things are presented and reality,” said Ronan Appere, the lawyer for the youngest pirate.
The Lemacons left the northwestern French port of Vannes in 2008 for a journey to Zanzibar. They were taken hostage on April 6, 2009, off the Somali coast.
Somali piracy in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the northwestern Indian Ocean netted $160 million in 2011, and cost the world economy some $7 billion, according to the American One Earth Future foundation.
But risks from pirate operations decreased following a step-up in patrolling by an international coalition of warships and greater use of private security guards on merchant ships.
Pirate groups have moved the focus of kidnappings to onshore, taking foreign tourists and aid workers hostage in northern Kenya and Somalia.