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Gulf terror alert.

Byline: MANDEEP SINGH

THE Gulf region could descend into chaos if pirates are recruited by terrorists, a security expert warned yesterday. The scourge of piracy off the coast of Somalia and nearby areas could soon develop into a terrorism problem if more action is not taken to halt it, said US Department of Energy Co-operative Border Security Programme manager Jimmie Collins.

She said at present, the motivation for acts of piracy appeared to be economic gain, but warned that could change.

"Understanding the economic motivation raises concerns that pirates may easily be seconded into terrorist operations for monetary gain, thus shifting to mercenary objectives," said Ms Collins at the Middle East and North Africa Maritime Security and Coastal Surveillance Conference.

Ms Collins was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day event, which began at the Diplomat Radisson SAS, Hotel, Residence and Spa .

Maritime security experts from around the world attended the conference, organised by the US-based International Quality and Productivity Centre.

The expert, who works at the department's National Nuclear Security Administration, said there was also concern that the some factions of the pirates in war-torn Somalia may have a more geo-strategic thinking, which Western intelligence services have long seen as a safe haven for Islamist terror groups.

"That, if it happens, could be catastrophic for this region, being so close to it, and would increase severe problems for all those involved," said Ms Collins.

However, she said the Arabian Gulf region was a "difficult" one for pirates since it is always heavily patrolled by the navies of the world who have strategic interests in those waters.

"The good thing is that all those navies involved are now pro-actively involved in tackling the menace," said Ms Collins.

"Hopefully, this will continue."

Ms Collins said another danger was that the nature of the piracy threat may shift to terrorist orchestrated events, such as martyrdom operations.

"No one can let that happen and in this part of the world these incidents would be catastrophic," she said.

Ms Collins warned that the pirates' network could easily be also used to fuelling illicit transnational trafficking networks and spawn rampant expansion of trafficking in humans, drugs and counterfeit commodities.

"They could soon have a ghastly amount of weapons into their most dangerous hands - including possibly weapons of mass destruction, and their delivery systems," she said.

Ms Collins said every nation in the Gulf faces a significant and growing challenge to its national border security systems.

"We all have important roles to play in devising solutions," she said.

"We each hold pieces to the puzzle and these pieces have to fall into place."

Ms Collins said another issue to tackle was rapid response - providing mobile and rapid deployment to quickly counter and interdict based on shifts in illicit cross-border traffic and tactical intelligence.

She also warned that the threat of piracy was great and increasing.

"The adversaries have established criminal operations and are well-equipped with modern technology, vessels, and weaponry," she said.

"This has led to bolder and more aggressive tactics, expansion of their operations, and growing willingness to use lethal force.

"We as law enforcers and planners have to be one up on them."

Ms Collins said the Combined Taskforce 151, the border security force providing the majority of the system's components and capabilities, was primarily focused in the Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) in the Gulf of Aden and it is only within this area that they are able fully to exercise capabilities.

"The taskforce's surveillance, detection, inspection and interdiction capabilities are seriously hampered within the MSPA, though, by the limited numbers of interdiction vessels in a large area of operations," she said.

"This creates significant vulnerabilities."

Ms Collins said the issues of what to do with pirates after they are captured was also problematic.

"The current legal framework rests on individual nations' laws when incidents occur in international waters," she said.

"While one country's law may dictate that they can prosecute a captured pirate despite the national ownership of the attacked ship, other countries have laws in place that state the opposite."

mandeep@gdn.com.bh

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Mar 24, 2009
Words:696
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