Is Islamic State Group Getting Into the Piracy Business?


DUBAI — An expert is downplaying concerns raised last week by the United Arab Emirates that Islamic State militants could unite with al-Shabab terrorists and expand to the seas, since no evidence has been established of links between terrorists and pirates.

On Oct. 29, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan raised the piracy concerns, calling for the international community to be more vigilant regarding new threats at the fourth UAE Counter Piracy Conference in Dubai.

“As groups like Daesh [Islamic State] develop ties to criminal networks and arms networks like al-Shabab, it is essential that we prevent them from expanding their operations into the sea and threaten vital channels such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Red Sea, Bab al Mandab and the Gulf of Aden,” he said.

“The nexus of criminal groups, violent extremists, and weak states will require a coordinated response from governments and the private sector,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves these questions and prepare ourselves in case a union of [the Islamic State group] and al-Shabab occurs.”

The minister described the al-Shabab group not only as a terrorist group, but “also an extortionist group that we have mandated a number of activities to limit their source of funds.”

Abdullah made his comments as the Islamic State establishes itself as the world’s richest terrorist organization with funds estimated at more than $2 billion and daily income from black market oil sales.

The UAE is a member of the anti-Islamic State Arab Coalition fighting over Syrian airspace and has actively increased its security efforts to combat the organization on military, intelligence, financial and ideological levels.

“When it comes to addressing the financing, [piracy] operations are, as I have come to understand, a form of venture capital,” said Todd Chapman, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, US State Department.

“Somebody puts up the money for the boats, for the engines, for the gasoline and the hired hands to try and send them out to see if they can capture a ship for a huge return on investment, which is very risky,” he said. “However, fortunately, we have made it extremely unprofitable to invest in piracy.

“Many of the financiers are inland in Somalia and have strong links there,” Chapman added.

Despite a number of terrorist organizations pledging their allegiance to Islamic State, no direct links have been found yet between Somali piracy and terrorist groups in the country and internationally, according to an expert at the conference.

“In the specific case of Somali piracy, we have not seen any direct link with al-Shabab and terrorist organizations because terrorists are ideological and pirates are criminals,” the international source said.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdel Latif al-Zayani echoed the concerns raised by the UAE. In his statement to delegates at the conference, al-Zayani highlighted the importance of intelligence communication and information sharing between the countries involved in anti-piracy and counterterrorism operations.

“Along with the announced GCC unified military command, a GCC police force has been mandated to be headquartered in Abu Dhabi to facilitate communication between the GCC agencies as well as the international and regional ones,” he said.

“GCC national security is concerned with protecting oilfields, the delivery of oil from the platforms to the ships and the travel of those ships through international waters; the responsibilities are national ones, regional and international,” he added.


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