A factional leader in Somalia's Eritrea-based opposition group is denying allegations by a piracy specialist in Kenya that he is aiding radical Islamists by providing them with weapons bought with money earned from piracy. Yusuf Mohamed Siad, better known by his nickname Inda'ade, says he is not involved in pirate activities and says the country's piracy problem should be blamed on the leader of Puntland, where the vast majority of ships are hijacked. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Inda'ade, who has rarely been seen since Ethiopian troops ousted the Islamic Courts Union in late 2006, held a press conference on Monday in the Somali capital Mogadishu to respond to statements made last week by the head of the Mombasa-based Seafarers' Assistance Program.
The factional leader-turned-Islamist denied Andrew Mwangura's allegation that he was profiting from pirate activities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland and said such statements are aimed at destroying his reputation.
Inda'ade, who Somalis say ran a lucrative pirate operation from the seaside town on Merca in the Lower Shabelle region in the past, said the country's rampant piracy problem is the fault of Puntland President Adde Muse, claiming that it is President Muse who is profiting from piracy, not him.
Inda'ade alleged that the Somali leader was receiving a share of the ransom payments made to pirates and that Mr. Muse was planning to use some of the money to fund his re-election campaign. Puntland is scheduled to hold general elections next January.
VOA was unable to reach President Muse for comment. But his top political advisor, Abdi Abdul Shakur Mire, vehemently denied that the president was profiting from a wave of piracy this year that has made shipping lanes off the coast of Puntland the most dangerous in the world.
"That is false information. Inda'ade, he does not know about our area. The reality is our president is not involved in that game," he said.
Seafarer's Assistance Program's Andrew Mwangura says his report on Inda'ade's involvement in piracy comes from reliable sources inside various pirate groups and stands by it. Mwangura says those sources and others suggest that Inda'ade's claim about the Puntland leader profiting from piracy may have some truth to it.
Mwangura says the latest incident involves a German couple, freed early last month after being held captive by Somali pirates for more than a month. Mwangura says a ransom of $1 million was paid to the pirate group, but his group received credible information from sources in Kenya that almost half-a-million dollars extra was paid to officials in Puntland.
"Four hundred-thousand went to people linked to Adde Muse, paid in Nairobi and passed through Wilson Airport," he said.
Presidential advisor Abdi Abdul Shakur Mire acknowledged that the Puntland government sometimes joins local elders and regional officials in negotiations with pirates for the release of hostages. But he says he knows nothing about payments being made to the president.
Somali pirates are currently holding at least six vessels and about 130 crew members in Puntland. They are demanding more than $9 million to free two Malaysian tankers, a Japanese-managed bulk carrier, and a Nigerian tug boat.