In September, Somali pirates made headlines when they captured a Russian-flagged Ukrainian cargo ship bound for Kenya. This hijacking made news because the vessel was filled with Russian-made weapons on their way to Kenya's military.
The pirates from Somalia have found their pot of gold. Merchant vessels are extremely vulnerable as they pass through narrow strait that leads from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea. Somalia's long coast borders this strategic international sea-lane.
This has enabled Somali pirates to attack at least 77 ships this year. The vast majority of merchant ships are not armed or prepared to defend themselves against pirates. The raiders have very fast small rubber boats that are invisible to radar.
The pirates are well-trained terrorist-types. They're heavily armed with compact, but very destructive and lethal weapons. Once they capture a merchant ship or freighter, they offer it up for ransom. The average ransom collected per ship is about $2 million.
But of even more interest than the Russian arms freighter is another hijacking that occurred in roughly the same time period. This incident involved an Iranian freighter: the MV Iran Deyant. The mystery is why this hijacking has been almost completely unreported, especially in the U.S. media. Somali pirates captured this state-owned Iranian merchant ship in August. It sailed from Nanjing, China, on July 28.
According to its manifest, it was heading for Rotterdam. But the U.S. Coast Guard reports that Iran routinely falsifies its shipping manifests. The vessel's declared cargo consisted of "minerals" and "industrial products." It was boarded by pirates on Aug. 21.
By Sept. 1, 16 of the Somali pirates were dead. Others were covered with skin burns and suffered hair loss, nausea and other signs of radiation sickness. These kinds of injuries are consistent with exposure to radioactive materials – or possibly some form of biological weapons.
So, what was the ship really carrying? Nobody is talking. Where was it really headed? Nobody knows for sure. The pirates released the ship back to Iran on Oct. 10, before the U.S. or NATO could get a good look inside.
But there is plenty of speculation. Some believe it was a massive floating dirty bomb headed through the Suez Canal for a position off Israel's coast. Once there, it would be detonated and its cargo of "fine, white, sandy soil" would be blown into the air, eventually to settle to the earth in Israel.
If 16 pirates died after minimal exposure to the cargo, how destructive would it be when it settled on large, metropolitan areas?
Or, was it bound for America? Perhaps it carried chemical or nuclear materials for al-Qaida. Or Hezbollah. But now that it's back in Iran, how will we know? We'll keep an eye on this one.
This story illustrates the danger that still lurks in this world. Since 9/11, Americans have been lulled once again into a sense of complacency. No harm, no foul. Because we've not been hit on our soil, we've assumed the danger has lessened. This disturbing incident illustrates the fact that it has not lessened, just held at bay.
We've discussed potential terrorist threats such as an electromagnetic pulse attack. We've discussed dirty bombs brought into American cities and Mexican gangs smuggling weapons materials across the border.
I've told you about cyber attacks from various countries. We've even described how Islamic groups are buying up banking interests in the Caribbean and establishing bases off the coast of South America.
But Americans only think in terms of sound bites and news cycles. Muslims think in terms of decades and centuries. Just because they've been unsuccessful recently doesn't mean they're not continuing to work toward another attack – and the bigger the better.
They have a sense of history; we don't. They are patient in working toward their goals. We aren't.