Somali pirate kingpin arrested: Security sources

MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somali security forces have arrested one of the country's most powerful pirate chiefs, who once hijacked giant vessels earning him multi-million dollar ransoms, security sources said Tuesday.

Mohamed Garfanji was seized late Sunday in the capital Mogadishu along with several of his well-armed bodyguards, according to foreign and Somali security sources.

There was no official confirmation from the internationally-backed government, and sources could not confirm if he was still being held.

Both the United States and the Seychelles reportedly want to question him for his alleged kidnapping of citizens from both nations.

However, last year President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud offered an amnesty to junior pirates in a bid to end attacks off the Horn of Africa nation's coast, but said it was not open to their leaders.

It was not clear if Garfanji - who was arrested during a disarmament campaign and not for piracy - had received an amnesty.

The notoriously elusive pirate once commanded a small private army.

Ships he captured allegedly include the South Korean supertanker Samho Dream, which was released after nine months in 2010 for a record nine-million-dollar ransom.

Garfanji is not the first Somali pirate commander to be arrested.

Last year Mohamed Abdi Hassan, better known as "Afweyne" or "Big Mouth", was arrested by Belgian police after he landed at Brussels airport on charges of kidnapping and piracy.

He was lured to Belgium in a sting operation, believing he was to take part in a film on piracy.

Pirate attacks off Somalia have been slashed in recent years, with international fleets patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, as well as armed guards being posted aboard many vessels.

At their peak in January 2011, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats, some onshore and others on their vessels.

Today, pirates hold at least 37 hostages but no major ships.

Somalia's central government - protected by a 22,000-strong African Union force - does not control the key areas where pirates operate, which are largely along the northern coastal Puntland region.

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