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EGYPT: The man who beat the pirates

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The owner of one of the two Egyptian fishing vessels whose crews recently overthrew their Somali pirate kidnappers has arrived home after a harrowing rescue mission that led him from East Africa to Yemen.

Hassan Khalil, dubbed "the pirates beater" by Egyptian newspapers, received a hero's welcome upon his arrival at Cairo airport as he is credited for the plan that led to freeing 34 Egyptian fisherman. Khalil, who owns the ship Momtaz 1, traveled to Somalia to negotiate a ransom for the release of his and another vessel, the Ahmed Samara' after the ships were hijacked by pirates four months ago in Las Qorey along the Gulf of Aden.

"At first we didn’t know who to negotiate with. Each of the pirate leaders had a different demand than the other. They asked for a ransom of $200,000, then someone else said $4 million and we were lost in between them," Khalil told Al Destour newspaper.

"Then we tried to win over the tribes in Las Qorey, hoping that they could help us reach a settlement with the pirates but that didn’t work either," the father of two of the fishermen working on Momtaz 1 added.

Hassan grew frustrated and hired a band of mercenaries. After paying one pirate $10,000 and promising more ransom money, Hassan was allowed to board his vessels to check on the condition of the crew. Then, with the help of the mercenaries, the crew overthrew the pirates, attacking them with knives, tools and guns.

"We attacked the ship at 2 p.m., a time when most of the pirates are usually high on Qat and the mercenaries were securing the road on shore," said Khalil, who also had assistance from a Yemeni businessman.

The 34 fisherman are back in command of the ships and are sailing back to Egypt with eight pirates locked in rooms and who are expected to be delivered to authorities. Two other pirates were reportedly killed in the confrontation.

While the fishermen's families confirmed that Egyptian authorities had no role in releasing their sons and husbands, Khalil hinted that the government played a hidden part in the rescue plan.

"I want to thank the military intelligence and President Hosni Mubarak for their efforts with the Somali foreign ministry upon our arrival in Somalia," he said.

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Hassan Khalil. Credit: Associated Press

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