Somali pirates who kidnapped a British couple last month are preparing to defend their hostages from Islamist extremists, who they said were heading to the area with plans to seize them.
The captors of Paul and Rachel Chandler said that they believed the militants would try to take the Britons by force.
“We heard that Islamists with battlewagons are on the way. I believe they will not succeed in confiscating the British couple,” Mohamed Shakir, a pirate commander, told The Times yesterday. A battlewagon refers to a pick-up truck with a heavy machinegun mounted on the back — the favoured fighting vehicle in the war-torn region.
The commander denied reports that there had already been a gun battle between rivals struggling for ownership of the Chandlers, who were seized ten days ago aboard their 38-foot yacht, Lynn Rival, but added that preparations were being made to defend their human prizes in what threatens to become a deadly tug-of-war. Shakir said that the hostages, who are aged 59 and 55, had been taken inland to Bahdo, a town 125 miles northeast of the notorious pirate haven of Haradheere, and that more pirates were on their way to the town to act as reinforcements.
“Armed pirates are flowing into Bahdo to defend against any Islamists’ attack,” he said.
A local elder, Abdullahi Said, said that attempts were under way to mediate between the pirates and the Islamists in the hope of preventing any armed clashes.
The pirates believe the Chandlers, who were taken as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania, to be valuable hostages. In a telephone call to the BBC last week one pirate, claiming to speak for the gang holding them, demanded a ransom of $7 million. The British Government has said that it will not pay any ransom.
Other reports have suggested that the pirates might want to organize a prisoner exchange, swapping the Chandlers for a group of pirates who were arrested by an EU warship on anti-piracy patrol off the Somali coast.