Belgium detains suspected Somali pirate kingpin: media

BRUSSELS Mon Oct 14, 2013 7:23am EDT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium has arrested a suspected Somali pirate leader believed to have earned millions of dollars in ransom payments over years of operating off the East African coast, Belgian media reported on Monday.

Mohamed Abdi Hassan, known as "Afweyne" or Big Mouth, was detained when he arrived at Brussels Airport on Saturday, the De Standaard newspaper said on Monday.

Federal prosecutors said they would hold a news conference on Monday afternoon regarding two people picked up at the airport on Saturday and suspected of involvement in the hijacking of the Belgian ship "Pompeii" in 2009.

They declined to say whether one of the suspects was Hassan.

He is suspected of having commanded gangs which gained a fortune in ransom payments from merchant ships and yachts which they seized over more than a decade of piracy.

He said in January he had put his pirate days behind him and retired. United Nations experts have accused a former Somalian president of shielding him by issuing him a diplomatic passport.

In 2011, Somali piracy in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the northwestern Indian Ocean netted $160 million, and cost the world economy some $7 billion, according to the American One Earth Future foundation.

But risks from pirate operations decreased following a step-up in patrolling by an international coalition of warships and greater use of private security guards on merchant ships.

Pirate groups have moved the focus of kidnappings to onshore, such as taking foreign tourists and aid workers hostage in northern Kenya and Somalia.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan)

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