Are the pirates and the Islamists in cahoots?

Somalia has two big scourges these days: Islamist milititas the run most of the country (and are linked to al Qaeda) and piracy off the coast. (The combination yields a desperate humanitarian situation sandwiched in between.) But what if the two scourges are linked? That was the  suggestion of the Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Stephen Musyok, ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images

Somalia has two big scourges these days: Islamist milititas the run most of the country (and are linked to al Qaeda) and piracy off the coast. (The combination yields a desperate humanitarian situation sandwiched in between.)

But what if the two scourges are linked? That was the  suggestion of the Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Stephen Musyok, speaking at the New America Foundation today. "Piracy is another issue which I think has a  direct link with these extremist militant groups," he told the audience.

It's an odd idea at first. Al Shabaab has built its image on the harsh brand of Sharia that they hope to impose, and during the Islamic Courts government earlier this decade (of which al Shabaab was a part,) piracy was banned. 

Somalia has two big scourges these days: Islamist milititas the run most of the country (and are linked to al Qaeda) and piracy off the coast. (The combination yields a desperate humanitarian situation sandwiched in between.)

But what if the two scourges are linked? That was the  suggestion of the Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Stephen Musyok, speaking at the New America Foundation today. "Piracy is another issue which I think has a  direct link with these extremist militant groups," he told the audience.

It’s an odd idea at first. Al Shabaab has built its image on the harsh brand of Sharia that they hope to impose, and during the Islamic Courts government earlier this decade (of which al Shabaab was a part,) piracy was banned. 

Not anymore. Last December, a Canadian intelligence report indicated that Shabaab was in fact training pirates for their "duties." Further reporting from Jane’s (summarized here) notes how taxes are levied on the pirates’ booties. Yes, the pirates and the Islamists are definitely in cahoots.

One way they know that both are getting worse? "[I]n Nairobi today, property prices today are still rising, and we think this has a direct link with the piracy." In other words, all those wealthy pirates are buying up fancy homes. And they’ve got a lot of cash to spend.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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