France builds case against Somali 'pirates'

Other News Materials 23 September 2008 20:49 (UTC +04:00)

French prosecutors have started building a case against six alleged Somali pirates captured in the Indian Ocean this month in a commando operation to rescue a couple held aboard a hijacked yacht, AFP reported.

Special forces stormed aboard the Carre d'As on September 15 to rescue its crew, a French couple who had been kidnapped almost two weeks earlier. One suspect was killed and six more captured and flown to France.

It was the second French operation against Somali pirates this year, and President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to get tough with the gangs who prey on shipping in the waters off east Africa's most troubled state.

Parisian prosecutors have now opened an inquiry, which a judicial source said would be conducted by gendarmerie officers with a view to charging the six captives with hijacking, hostage-taking for ransom and conspiracy.

A legal source said that the gang had demanded two million dollars (1.36 million euros) for the safe return of the boat and its crew but that no talks had been entered into before the commando raid.

The charges carry life sentences and are the same as those facing six more Somalis captured in April in an earlier raid launched by French commandos after another French-owned yacht was captured and its crew ransomed.

Sarkozy has promised that French forces will continue to fight piracy and France has called for the creation of an international naval patrol to protect shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and escort humanitarian aid to Somalia.

Dozens of ships, mainly merchant vessels, have been seized by gangs off Somalia's 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile) coastline in recent years, despite the presence of Western navies deployed in the region to fight terrorism.

The pirates travel in high-powered speedboats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. They sometimes hold ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.