Piracy and terrorism are known to overlap in two key areas. First, in the legal realm: pirates and terrorists, as non-state, criminal organizations, come together and form extraterritorial alliances. Secondly, in the financial area, where pirates finance terrorists: pirates are known, for example, to finance Islamist terrorist organizations in Somalia and Indonesia.
The difference is the motives of piracy and terrorism in pure, non-mixed, forms. The goal of piracy is primarily monetary gain, while terrorism pursues political or religious goals; pirates avoid publicizing their actions and use psychological tools to realize their demands, and use force as a last resort; maritime terrorists generally seek to publicize forceful actions.
Over time, the lines between these phenomena have become more blurred. Using pirate tactics, terrorists seek to extend their jihad to the maritime frontiers as well. In Somalia, for example, strong links have developed between pirates and terrorist organizations.
Piracy is now considered by international maritime organizations as part of terrorism. The protection of sea lanes is becoming a priority for the law enforcement agencies of coastal States, especially those countries that control the main sea channels and straits. Pirate attacks are often seen as actual preparations or a cover for the preparation of a large-scale terrorist attack. However, when ships are attacked, it is impossible to immediately determine the attackers’ objectives. Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that pirate attacks are undertaken to solve the material problems of terrorist organizations.
It should be borne in mind that various terrorist organizations are quite active on land in piracy-prone areas. In Somalia, this is the radical Islamist group Al-Shabab (“Young Mujahideen Movement”), which has close ties with the international terrorist organization Al-Qaida. In Yemen, on the northern side of the Gulf of Aden, the influence of Al-Qaeda itself is growing, which has taken control of the port cities of Al-Mukalla, Al-Shikhr, and the city of Ahwar. In Nigeria – the extremist group “Boko Haram”, which, according to official sources, has seized more than 20 settlements in the north-east of the country and is developing cooperation with the Somali group “Al-Shabab”. Everyone wonders when we should expect more active actions of terrorists at sea in these and other piracy-prone areas, as their brethren did near Mumbai (India) in November 2008. It is only a matter of time, unless decisive action is taken earlier to combat terrorism and piracy in these areas.
It should be noted that shipping is not immune to piracy and terrorism in all its manifestations. Many landlocked countries with unstable political regimes or weak State authority pose a threat to shipping lanes. The still high level of maritime crime shows that now is not the time to relax security measures.
The first encouraging results of joint efforts to combat international piracy should not be a reason for complacency: maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships is a very resilient phenomenon. Under the influence of the processes of world development – globalization, the evolution of the system of inter-State relations and the transformation of the security sphere – it is now undergoing its own modification and is once again challenging the world community as a “new” security threat.