From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Nov 25 2008 - 08:31:59 EST
US: No evidence of al-Qaida link to Somali pirates
The Associated PressPublished: November 25, 2008
NAIROBI, Kenya: The head of U.S. military operations in Africa said Tuesday he has no evidence that Somali pirates are connected to al-Qaida.
U.S. Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward said the chaos on the high seas is a reflection of the country's political chaos.
Somalia has had no functioning government since 1991. Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia so far this year number nearly 100, with 40 ships hijacked. Fifteen ships with nearly 300 crew are still being held for ransom near the coastline.
Asked about alleged connections between pirates and al-Qaida, Ward, said: "I think that's a concern that we all would have."
But, he added, "I do not have any evidence that pirates have links to al-Qaida."
The U.S. Defense Department created Africa Command, of Africom, in October 2007 to consolidate operations that had been split among three other regional commands, none of which had Africa as a primary focus.
Several African countries, including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa, have expressed deep reservations about the command, claiming it could signal an unwanted expansion of American military influence or turn Africa into another battleground in the global war on terror groups.
Africom officials say the command's goals have been misunderstood and emphasize there are no plans to build new U.S. military bases in Africa.
Although American interests will take priority, the increased focus on Africa will benefit both sides and pave the way for closer collaboration with African leaders, U.S. officials say.
Ward, who spoke to journalists Tuesday in Kenya's capital, emphasized that the key to stopping piracy in Somalia was solving the crisis on land.
"We look to increase capacity in combating pirate activities," he said.
He offered no specifics about how the U.S. would try to build up institutions in Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in a ferocious Islamic insurgency.
On Monday, Yemen's Interior Ministry said Somali pirates had hijacked a Yemeni cargo ship in the Arabian Sea. It said communication with the vessel was lost last Tuesday after it had been out to sea for a week.
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