An alleged pirate kingpin has been arrested in a Hollywood-style sting that lured him from Somalia to Belgium to work on a fake documentary about high-seas crime.
Yet instead of signing a film contract as an expert adviser, Mohamed Abdi Hassan was arrested at Brussels airport as soon as he landed Saturday and immediately jailed, Belgian authorities said Monday.
Federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said Abdi Hassan was charged with hijacking the Belgian dredger ship Pompei and kidnapping its crew of nine in 2009 and participating in a criminal organization. An alleged accomplice known as Tiiceey was also arrested.
A U.N. report last year called Abdi Hassan "one of the most notorious and influential leaders" of a major Somali pirate organization that roamed the seas hijacking ships for ransom.
"(He's) one of the most important and infamous kingpin pirate leaders, responsible for the hijacking of dozens of commercial vessels from 2008 to 2013," Delmulle said.
In 2009, Somali pirates released the Pompei's crew after 10 weeks because the ship's owner paid a large ransom. Belgium caught two pirates involved in the hijacking, convicted them and sentenced them to nine and 10 years in prison.
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But Belgian prosecutors were still seeking the ringleaders.
"Too often, these people remain beyond reach while they let others do the dirty work," Delmulle told reporters.
Malaysian authorities almost captured the reclusive Adbi Hassan in April 2012 but a document from the Somali transitional government let him slip back home, the UN report said.
Belgian authorities then went undercover to nab him, because they knew he traveled very little and that an international arrest warrant would produce no results in unstable Somalia.
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They approached Tiiceey, dangling a fake job as an adviser to a fake movie about piracy that would "mirror his life as a pirate," Delmulle said.
They took the bait.
The prosecutor refused to divulge any more details on the sting. The two Somalis will appear in court Tuesday in Brugge.