June 10, 2009 / 5:04 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. Navy hands over 17 pirates to Kenya

* 17 suspected pirates arrive in Mombasa

* Kenyan police would like captives to go to other countries

* Diplomatic police on high alert in Nairobi

By Celestine Achieng

MOMBASA, Kenya, June 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. navy handed over 17 suspected Somali pirates to Kenya on Wednesday, taking the number of such captives in prisons along the east African country’s coast to 111.

Kenyan police say the influx of suspected Somali pirates is clogging jails and congesting local courts and they would like foreign navies patrolling the shipping lanes off Somalia to start taking captives to other countries.

“We are looking at ways in the near future to have the pirates either charged in Seychelles, Egypt or Djibouti due to congestion,” Sebson Wandera, the provincial CID operations chief, told reporters in the port city of Mombasa.

He said the latest arrivals would be taken to a court in Malindi, further up the coast from Mombasa towards Somalia, and if suspected pirates continued to flood into Kenya they may have to be taken to the capital Nairobi.

International navies trying to curb piracy off lawless Somalia are often reluctant to bring suspects to their own countries because they either lack the jurisdiction, or fear the pirates may seek asylum. [ID:nLF303912]

The European Union, United States and some other countries have instead struck agreements with Kenya to leave suspects to face trial in east Africa’s biggest economy. Some pirates are being prosecuted in France and the Netherlands. [ID:nLP23112]

In Kenya, 10 pirates are serving a seven-year jail term at a prison in Voi, near Mombasa.

DIPLOMATIC POLICE ON HIGH ALERT

Kenya has made clear it cannot take all the pirates and local Muslim leaders are worried the growing number of Somali prisoners could fuel tensions between the neighbouring nations.

“Kenya is not a dumping ground. The U.S. or the French or the German navy should take charge of the people they arrest,” said Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, organising secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK).

“It is almost like they want to open an African Guantanamo Bay in Kenya. It is a very dangerous trend,” he said.

The hardline Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab, which controls southern Somalia along Kenya’s border, has links to al Qaeda and there are fears of strikes in the capital Nairobi.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula reassured diplomats on Wednesday of their security against any terrorist attacks, saying the diplomatic police had been put on “high alert”.

“The minister added that we are living in a volatile world and the deteriorating situation in Somalia has compounded the security situation,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“He called upon the international community to address the issue of Somalia since it has assumed global ramifications,” the ministry said in a statement.

There was a bomb scare at the Norwegian embassy last week and Delta Air Lines cancelled its maiden flight to Nairobi after the U.S. government said there was a “credible threat” to civil aviation in east Africa. [ID:nL3341228]

An al Qaeda truck bomb killed more than 200 people at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in August 1998.

Suicide bombers struck again in 2002, killing 15 people at an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast. At almost the same time, attackers tried to shoot down an Israeli jetliner as it left Mombasa. Both missiles missed. (Additional reporting by David Clarke in Nairobi)

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