22 April 2008

Somalia: Puntland Will Execute Captured Pirates - Security Minister

Security forces in Somalia's northern state of Puntland stormed a hijacked ship Tuesday, safely releasing hostages and arresting the seven pirates on board, the region's security minister said.

Abdullahi Said Samatar, the security minister in Puntland, told reporters at the port of Bossaso, the region's commercial hub, that 100 soldiers and several armored boats took part in the rescue effort.

He stated that of the seven captured pirates, three were wounded during a brief skirmish with Puntland security forces.

Mr. Samatar declined to mention any details of casualties on the Puntland government side, but port sources confidentially informed Garowe Online that two soldiers were wounded during the operation.

Yesterday, the pirates hijacked the al Khaleej, registered in the United Arab Emirates but rented by Somali businessmen. According to the Puntland security minister, the pirates had "crossed the line" when they hijacked the ship near the vital port of Bossaso.

The captured pirates were transported out of Bossaso port and are being held under heavy guard at a discreet location, informed sources said.

Mr. Samatar told journalists that the government of Puntland will charge the captured pirates in court, where they will face the death penalty.

No criminal convicted of piracy has ever been executed by the Puntland government to date.

Over the weekend, a Spanish fishing vessel with 26 crewmen on board was hijacked by suspected pirates off of the eastern coast of Somalia.

Mr. Samatar praised the French government for a rescue mission earlier this month on Somali soil, whereby 30 people were safely released by pirates after collecting a $2 million ransom payment.

The French government contends that six men captured by the French military are pirates, who will be charged in a Paris court. But local officials in Puntland argue that only two of the captured six men are actually pirates.

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