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India probing Somali pirates' terror links

Indian security agencies are probing the suspected terror links of the captured Somali pirates with Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

delhi Updated: Jan 31, 2011 22:03 IST

Indian security agencies are probing the suspected terror links of the captured Somali pirates with Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The suspicion comes in the wake of increased pirate attacks on merchant vessels passing through the sea lanes close to the Indian coast.

Coast Guard Director General Vice Admiral Anil Chopra told reporters on Monday that it was but natural that there would be speculation about terror linkages when the pirates were operating so close to India in the recent months.

"When there is piracy so close to India, there is bound to be speculation whether there are any linkages between these pirates and the terror groups. When we catch people, our first attempt is to see if there is any established link between them and terrorists," Chopra said.

"The process of international investigation takes a long time. So, at the moment we are still investigating... the intelligence agencies are investigating all the people, whom we have captured, to try and establish if there is connection between them and the terrorists," he said when asked for his assessment on suspected terror links of the pirates.

His remarks come in the wake of the navy and coast guard sinking a pirate ship and capturing 15 of the sea brigands, who jumped overboard from their ship that went up in flames during a gun battle with the navy on January 28.

Chopra said Somali piracy, which was initially confined to the Gulf of Aden, had extended itself and was now moving eastwards to operate about 100 miles off India. "But they are posing a threat not only to India but to all shipping nations, as hijacking and ransom is easy money," he added.

Chopra said all nations were now worried over piracy and there was no solution to the problem because of lack of a proper government in Somalia. "So there is nothing stopping or regulating them in Somalia itself," he said.

Noting that the multi-national anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden had proved successful and the number of incidents had decreased substantially. But this had led to the pirates to operate in the high seas using a mother ship and closer to the Indian coast.

"The high seas are unregulated as they belong to no country. The ocean is a very big place. It is not possible for all of the ocean to be monitored all the time even if all navies of the world come together," he said.

Asked if the pirates posed a threat to the Lakshadweep Islands, Chopra said the navy and the coast guard were carrying out an operation called 'Island Watch' around the atolls there.

He said the pirates would prefer to operate in the high seas than to come nearer to the Indian coast where the naval and coast guard presence is more. "If they come near the coast, they know they will be clobbered by the navy and coast guard," he said.

He said that merchant vessels sailing alone in the high seas "are a fairly easy target". But the International Maritime Organisation had issued advisories on methods to escape from pirate attack, he said.

"This is a big, big problem and the United Nations is seized of the issue," he added.