Islamist leader calls on pirates to release ships

15:09, 02 December 2008
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A giant Saudi oil tanker and other foreign vessels

Somalia`s insurgent Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys called on pirates Tuesday to immediately release a giant Saudi oil tanker and other foreign vessels being held in Somali waters, AFP reported.

"We are calling for the immediate release of all international vessels under the command of Somali pirates, who are undermining international peace and trade," Aweys told AFP from the Etitrean capital Asmara.

Aweys, the leader of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, an umbrella opposition group, said the pirates would have been stamped out if Somalia were still under the control of his Islamist group.

"We are the only force that could eliminate piracy in the Somalia waters but the world rejected to give us the opportunity to rule Somalia, despite the will of the vast majority of the people of Somalia.

"If we are given the opportunity to fight piracy and general lawlessness we can do that comfortably. Piracy is part of lawlessness and during our months of Islamic leadership pirates were underground," he said.

His Islamic Courts Union ruled most of south and central Somalia for six months in 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian forces who intervened to prop up its neighbour`s weak central government.

The influential cleric, designated a terrorist by Washington because of alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, ruled out any mediation effort on the part of his organisation.

"As a leader of a freedom fighter orgnisation, I personally can`t talk to gangs and mediate the release of the ships in the Gulf of Aden," he said.

He said the pirates, negotiating multi-million dollar ransoms for the Saudi tanker "Sirius Star" and a Ukraine arms ship the "Faina" as well as a host of other foreign vessels and their crews, "are dealing with the world as if they were legitimate agencies, by talking about ransom money."

"We are the only force to deal with such criminals," he added.

Aweys equated the rampant piracy to the intervention of Ethiopian forces in his country.

"It is so painful to see Somalia taken by Ethiopian colonial occupation and crazy pirates. Both are the same and undermine human value."

Motivated by the need to fill the vacuum left by the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Aweys founded Mogadishu`s first Islamic court in the mid-1990s.


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