- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Following the recent rescue by Navy SEALS of Capt. Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Muslim pirates off the coast of Somalia last week, the Justice Department is contemplating what to do with the one pirate the rescuers captured.

What is clear is that the U.S. government is treating the matter as a criminal case because officials have “found no direct ties” between East African pirates and terror groups. This will not do. These “criminals” are jihadist Muslim pirates and must be dealt with in the context of America’s larger regional and international war against Islamist terror networks.

For starters, the Somali pirates do not think of themselves as pirates, but instead consider themselves to be devout Muslims protecting Somalia against the infidel West. As one pirate put it to a Reuters news agency reporter, “We are Muslims. We are marines, coast guards - not pirates.”

According to a recent report on Radio Garowe, the Puntland community radio station in northern Somalia, these Muslim pirates have been praised for “protecting the coast against the enemies of Allah” by Sheik Mukhtar Robow (“Abu Mansur”), a terrorist leader and spokesman for the radical Islamist and al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen group.

Sheik Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, leader of the al-Shabaab-linked Mu’askar Ras Kamboni (designated by the State Department as a terrorist group), said: “I can say the pirates are part of the mujahedeen [religious fighters], because they are in a war with Christian countries who want to misuse the Somali coast.”

According to a Reuters interview last summer with Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, “The entire Somali coastline is now under control of the Islamists. … According to our information, the money they make from piracy and ransoms goes to support al Shabaab activities onshore.” In other words, the actions of Muslim pirates off the coast of Somalia help support the larger jihad taking place in East Africa.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his March 19 audiotape to the people of Somalia praised the efforts of these insurgent Somali jihadist groups, saying they are engaged in “a war between Islam and the international crusade,” and he described the Somali jihadists as “one of the important armies in the Mujahid Islamic battalion, and are the first line of defense for the Islamic world in its southwestern part.”

There is nothing surprising about any of this. On March 10, before the recent pirate attack pushed this issue to the front pages, Somalia already was a national security concern. As part of the Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Somalia and the surrounding region as well as the rise of al Qaeda and its allies in East Africa.

As Mr. Blair succinctly put it: “We judge the terrorist threat to U.S. interests in East Africa, primarily from al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic extremists in Somalia and Kenya, will increase in the next year as al Qaeda’s East Africa network continues to plot operations against U.S., Western and local targets and the influence of the Somalia-based terrorist group al Shabaab grows.” Gen. Maples highlighted al Shabaab and al Qaeda’s long alliance and elaborated on the Intelligence community’s concerns: “Cooperation among al Qaeda- inspired extremists throughout the region strengthens al Qaeda’s foothold in Africa.”

There even is growing concern about the rise of Islamist fundamentalism among the Somali-expat community in the United States. (See the eye-opening March 13 report “What Senators Didn’t Hear About Somali-American Jihadists” by Patrick Poole on PajamasMedia.com.)

Given the import of what is going on in and around Somalia, it is particularly troubling that the media blindly embrace the administration’s “nothing to see here, folks” attitude and refuse to recognize the Islamic nature of this piracy. These thugs are jihadists who see their actions as religiously sanctioned.

The threat of Muslim piracy as jihad is nothing new. In my book “Victory in Tripoli,” about America’s war with Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, I noted the religious nature and legitimacy of what the pirates were doing.

Of course, times change, and centuries of failure and military disadvantage have shifted the institution of Muslim piracy from being primarily about al-jihad fil-bahr, or the holy war at sea, to the more rewarding notion of al-jihad bi-al-mal, or the financial holy war (raising money for Muslims and jihad warriors).

Muslim pirates of centuries ago had very Old World aspirations and even more Old World tools and technology. Fundamentally however, little has changed about their motives or their strategy.

What has changed, unfortunately, is the Western world. The United States seems to have lost the fortitude to fight these Muslim pirates effectively. Somalia has been a “failed” and lawless state since 1991, so it has become all too convenient to blame the intelligence establishment’s inability to point to clear, unambiguous and unimpeachable links or alliances among the pirates, tribal warlords, village chieftains and known terror networks. As long as the pirates are officially nothing more than organized criminal entrepreneurs making the most of Somalia’s lack of security and police infrastructure, this jihadist Muslim piracy will continue.

This scourge of Muslim piracy cannot be defeated through defensive policing of the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean or precision strikes, soft power, smart sanctions, or carrot-and-stick approaches or, really, any other related half-measures. What is needed is the offensive use of brutal, overwhelming force to crush the jihadists at sea and on land, back in their strongholds.

The same policy debates took place during the rapid development of the nascent American republic and then continued to plague Presidents George Washington and John Adams. Even President Jefferson’s parsimony got the better of him, and it was not until President Madison finished the job in 1815 that the Muslim pirates of their age ceased to threaten American interests.

President Obama should not repeat the mistakes of the past but should, instead, hunt down and destroy these pirates and the terror networks they aid and abet.

Joshua E. London is co-director for government affairs of the Zionist Organization of America and is the author of “Victory in Tripoli: How America’s War With the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation” (John Wiley & Sons, September 2005).

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