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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Piracy

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Authorities target book piracy in raids across the country

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Fearing that the United Arab Emirates might turn into a haven for intellectual property scofflaws, authorities are implementing tough new measures to keep pirated book traders at bay. 

Over the last months, the UAE's Ministry of Economy along with police forces in Dubai and Sharjah and the Arabian Anti-Piracy Alliance have carried out a series of raids suspected of book piracy across the country.

The task force is said to have so far busted three major traders and locked them up on charges of violating copyright law. Several book shops were shut down in the raids, while others were let off with fines, read a news release published by local media.

The raids turned out to be fruitful. A wide variety of pirated books were apparently retrieved in the operation.

“They were a combination of fiction, non-fiction as well as textbooks. Pirates target everything,” Scott Butler, head of the AAA told Abu Dhabi's The National

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EGYPT: 23 investigated for hacking American bank accounts

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A prosecutor in the city of Mansoura is investigating 23 suspects accused of laundering money and stealing more than $26 million from U.S. banks through Internet piracy.

The defendants were arrested recently in cooperation with FBI agents, who had been monitoring movements of the hackers and their American associates since 2007. FBI officials said that, so far, 33 out of 53 people charged in connection with the investigation, known as Operation Phish Phry, were arrested in the U.S.

All Egyptians accused come from the governorates of Dakahleya and Sharkeya by the Nile delta and are between the ages 21 and 27. The alleged ringleaders, all California residents, were identified by the FBI as Kenneth Joseph Lucas, 25, of Los Angeles; Nichole Michelle Merzi, 24, of Oceanside; and Jonathan Preston Clark, 25, whose residence was not given.

The suspects are accused of posing as legitimate bank representatives and sending e-mails to victims, seeking to "update" their records. After the victims sent their personal information, the suspects allegedly withdrew money from their bank accounts.

The scheme included the recruiting of "runners" to set up bank accounts where stolen money from Bank of America and Wells Fargo could be transferred and withdrawn. At least $1.5 million was withdrawn from victims' bank accounts, officials said. Some of that money was transferred to individuals operating in Egypt, they said.

Ongoing investigations in Egypt have already been marred by allegations of human rights violations, as one of the defendants' lawyers told newspapers that police officers forced his client to admit to the charges. Other lawyers complained that they are not allowed access to the evidence forwarded to authorities by the FBI.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo credit: Associated Press

EGYPT: Returning fishermen accuse ship owner of stealing the glory

Babylon0827 Since their return to Egypt earlier this week, many of the 34 fisherman who overpowered Somali pirates to release their ships after four months of captivity have accused Hassan Khalil -- owner of one of the vessels -- of claiming too much glory for himself.

Khalil, who wasn’t aboard the vessel Momtaz 1 when it first departed Egyptian waters, was credited with organizing the rescue plan that freed the fisherman. After ransom talks with the pirates reached a dead end in Somalia, Khalil claims he hired mercenaries and helped the fishermen rise against the pirates At least two pirates were killed. The crew locked up eight other bandits and sailed home for Egypt.

However, many of the fishermen have different views of what happened. "We have always thought about escaping ourselves, but we never set a date for an action because Khalil used to call us and ensure that he will be paying the ransom," Abdel Salam Emara, one of the fishermen said.

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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.

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PIRACY: Retired Marine general says U.S. should attack pirates on land

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Now that Somali pirates have attacked a U.S.-flagged ship, it won't be surprising if there is a "get-tough" call in the U.S.

If so, it might be led by retired Marine Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Wilkerson, chief executive of the U.S. Naval Institute.

Soon after the news about the attack became public, Wilkerson e-mailed reporters saying that he found U.S-led efforts at deterring pirates to have failed. U.S. political leaders have to "get off their asses" and wage war on the pirates, like the Marines did against the Barbary pirates in the early 19th century, Wilkerson wrote.

He suggests the U.S. lead a force to find the pirates' hide-outs in Somalia and destroy them.

-- Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Somali pirates in Gulf of Aden last year. Credit: U.S. Navy

GULF OF ADEN: U.S. Navy warns merchant ships to be ready for Somali pirates

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The U.S. Navy in Bahrain is renewing its warning to merchant-ship captains to be prepared for attack by Somali pirates.

Although there is a multi-national task force patrolling the Gulf of Aden to thwart pirates, the area is vast, and the pirates are now striking farther out to sea.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, in an updated special maritime message issued this week, told merchant mariners to have an  antipiracy plan before they sail.

Gortney avoided any suggestion that merchant ships should hire armed guards to battle the sometimes heavily armed pirates.

Instead, he highlighted three successful tactics that stopped short of gunfire: a Panamanian-flagged ship that used evasive maneuvers and fire hoses to thwart pirates; a ship that fired flares at the pirates; and a ship that rigged barbed wire along its sides to prevent pirates from boarding.

In all three cases, the ships were prepared in advance. "Piracy is a problem that starts ashore," Gortney said.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Greek Navy commando detains a speedboat with suspected Somali pirates after a recent failed attack on a Norwegian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. Credit: Greek Navy / Associated Press

GULF OF ADEN: Pirates fire on German ship, leading to five-hour chase

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Somali pirates opened fire Sunday at a German naval supply ship in the Gulf of Aden -- leading to a five-hour chase by Greek, Dutch, Spanish and U.S. warships before the seven pirates were caught and arrested, U.S. Navy officials said.

The pirates may have mistaken the Spessart supply ship for a merchant ship. Involved in the chase were the U.S. amphibious assault ship Boxer and two U.S. Marine Cobra helicopters.

Greek commandos boarded the pirate vessel. The seven pirates have been turned over to a German frigate for possible prosecution. Somali pirates currently hold 11 ships hostage.

-- Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Greek commandos prepare to board Somali pirate vessel in Gulf of Aden. Credit: Greek Navy via Associated Press

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