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U.S. fears Islamic militants involvement in tanker hijack

    * Story Highlights
    * Pirates capture supertanker off Kenyan coast, carrying $100 million worth 
of oil
    * Locals in Somali coastal town say al-Shabab fighters have arrived to 
retake tanker
    * U.S.: Al-Shabab has links to al Qaeda, on register of of foreign 
terrorist groups

By Barbara Starr CNN Pentagon Correspondent

(CNN) -- U.S. military officials expressed concern Monday that Somali militants 
believed to be potentially affiliated with al Qaeda may become involved in the 
hijacking of a supertanker off eastern Africa.

Five armored vehicles loaded with al-Shabab fighters arrived in the central 
Somali coastal town of Harardhere this weekend, near where pirates are holding 
the massive Saudi Arabian oil tanker Sirius Star, said Ahmed Mohamed, a local 

The fighters told residents they would battle the pirates because the tanker, 
loaded with 2 million barrels of oil worth about $100 million, is owned by a 
Muslim country and should not have been taken, Mohamed said.

The al-Shabab militia is an offshoot of an Islamic party that ruled much of 
Somalia in the second half of 2006 and aims to impose Islamic sharia law in 
Somalia. It was forced from power by Ethiopian troops but continues to fight 
for control.

The U.S. State Department included the group on its register of foreign 
terrorist organizations in March of this year -- and declared it had links with 
al Qaeda.

"Al-Shabab is a violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals 
affiliated with al Qaeda," the department said on its Web site. "Many of its 
senior leaders are believed to have trained and fought with al Qaeda in 

"We're certainly concerned about the interest of Islamic extremists in piracy," 
said a U.S. military official monitoring developments Monday.

"We need to learn more about what al-Shabab is up to. Whatever influence 
al-Shabab is interested in, is troublesome" he said.

Another resident of Harardhere, Hassan Nor, suggested that al-Shabab's motive 
was to share in the multi-million dollar ransom the pirates have demanded from 
the supertanker's owner.

Until now the U.S. military has emphasized that piracy issue is a criminal 
matter that must be dealt with by the international community.

U.S. officials have long said that if they could determine a connection to 
terrorism, it could potentially require more military action in addition to the 
warships patrolling the region, although they have not been specific about what 
they might do.

All AboutSomalia • Pirates • Al Qaeda
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