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Undercover Belgian authorities capture accused Somali pirate by promising film role

Belgian authorities found a clever way to make a suspected Somali pirate known as “Big Mouth” shut up.

Alleged Somali pirate kingpin Mohamed Abdi Hassan-- known as “Afweyne” or Big Mouth—was arrested upon arrival at Brussels airport Saturday, after Belgian authorities lured him with the possibility of fame, according to a Reuters report.

Hassan is believed to be a commander of gangs who pocketed millions of dollars in ransom payments from seizing merchant ships and yachts off the East African coast over a period of ten years.  

Belgian authorities baited Hassan with promises to make a documentary film about his profitable adventures on the high seas, prosecutors told reporters at a news conference Monday.

Hassan and another suspected pirate --identified as Mohamed M. A. or "Tiiceey"-- are now in custody.  Tiiceey is a former governor of the Somali region of Himan and Heeb, and is suspected in helping Hassan’s gang, according to Belgian federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle.

Prosecutors said they decided to involve Belgian undercover agents after realizing an international arrest warrant would not likely help capture the men.

"After patiently starting a relationship of trust with Tiiceey, and through him with Afweyne, which took several months, both were prepared to participate in this (film) project," Delmulle told reporters.

The prosecutor said a message was sent to Hassan through Tiiceey to inquire whether he would be interested in being an adviser on a film about piracy, including his involvement in hijackings, and reaping millions of dollars from ransom payments.

The operation to reel Hassan in and persuade him to come to Brussels took months. The plan was put into action after two pirates were arrested and sentenced for taking over the Belgian ship, “Pompeii,” in 2009. Prosecutors decided to try to target the people behind the act, not just those who carried it out.

Hassan had said in January that he was retiring from his bandit life. United Nations experts have accused a former Somalian president of shielding him by issuing him a diplomatic passport, Reuters reported.

In 2011, Somali piracy in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the northwestern Indian Ocean took in $160 million, and cost the world economy an astonishing $7 billion, according to the American One Earth Future foundation.

But greater use of private security guards on merchant ships and a step-up in patrolling by an international coalition of warships have decreased pirate operations.

Pirate groups are now focusing on kidnappings onshore, such as taking foreign tourists and aid workers hostage in Somalia and northern Kenya. 

Click for more from Reuters.