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Belgians Pretend To Be A Film Crew To Nab Suspected Pirates


One of the great conceits of crime fiction is the notion that criminals are often masterminds capable of cleverly outfoxing the cops who are pursuing them. In the real world, the contrary is closer to the truth. Criminals are often not too bright and they are capable of self-defeating stupidities.

The most recent evidence of that is the case of Mohamed Abdi Hassan, a Somali pirate. Abdi Hassan is now in custody in Belgium, having been lured there by a honey pot designed to trap the man who can steal just about everything else. His captors offered Abdi Hassan a movie deal.

New York Times reporter Nicholas Kulish, who's in Nairobi, has written about this. Welcome to the program once again.

NICHOLAS KULISH: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And I want you to explain this: Mohamed Abdi Hassan was in Somalia, he was wanted for allegedly having ordered the seizure of a Belgian ship in 2009, how did the Belgians get him to fly to Brussels?

KULISH: Well, what they did was they came up with a ploy to lure him there, saying that they were working on a film - that they wanted him to come in star in a film about his glorious career as a pirate.

SIEGEL: And he bought this? He thought that they were for real?

KULISH: Well, they spent, you know, they spent months later the groundwork for this, slowly convincing him that they were for real. They first approached him through an associate who the prosecutors are describing as an accomplice.


SIEGEL: OK. So here is Mohamed Abdi Hassan and friend, thinking they've come to ink a movie deal, I guess, as Variety would say. They had seized a ship in 2009, held a ship and its crew for 70 days. How big a deal is Mohamed Abdi Hassan in the world of Somali piracy?

KULISH: You know, he's a very big deal. United Nations investigators have described him as, quote, "one of the most notorious and influential leaders," end quote, in the Hobiyo gang. He's alleged to have been involved in the hijacking of a Ukrainian transport ship with tanks on board, and of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star, a supertanker the size of an aircraft carrier.

SIEGEL: Now, if this weren't a real arrest with real consequences, and a real prosecution that we're told is going to come of that, I would suspect this is all promotion for the Tom Hanks movie, "Captain Phillips," that's opening, which is about an act of piracy by Somali pirates. A mere coincidence or did somebody play on jealousy among pirates, to make this fellow feel that he should have his own movie?

KULISH: I think that in this case the movie and other movies about Somali piracy - that are either in production or waiting to come out - sort of upped the plausibility factor; made it realistic that people will be trying to get him and to come and star this kind of film.

SIEGEL: Hey, by the way, I gather has a very colorful nickname.

KULISH: Yes, his nickname is Afweyne which means big mouth. And I guess that could describe the kind of greediness that a pirate may be known for.

SIEGEL: But he's retired as a pirate, I gather.

KULISH: Yeah. You know, he announced at the beginning of the year, the end of last year he announced that he was retiring after eight years in the lucrative business.

SIEGEL: I gather the Belgian prosecutor who announced all this was proud of the ruse. Fair to say?

KULISH: You got a sense from the prosecutor's comments that they were pretty proud of their stratagem. You know, he wanted everyone to know that it was the movie deal that lured them there. It wasn't a bland news conference but a little bit of crowing, you might say.

SIEGEL: But I assume this is the last time that prosecutors will be able to use the movie deal lure to get a pirate out of Somalia to Europe.

KULISH: I imagine if you were a Belgian documentary filmmaker working on a movie about pirates, you would be pretty unhappy today.

SIEGEL: Nicholas Kulish, thanks for talking with us. That's New York Times reporter Nicholas Kulish in Nairobi, talking about the case of Mohamed Abdi Hassan now in custody in Belgium, where he'll be tried for his alleged past acts of piracy.

Thanks for talking with us.

KULISH: Thanks a lot for having me.


SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.