BRUSSELS - The alleged pirate kingpin thought he was going work in the movies. Instead he landed in jail.
In a sting operation worthy of Hollywood, Mohamed Abdi Hassan was lured from Somalia to Belgium with promises of work on a documentary about high-seas crime that would "mirror his life as a pirate," federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said Monday.
But rather than being behind the camera as an expert adviser, Abdi Hassan ended up behind bars, nabbed as he landed Saturday at Brussels airport.
"(He's) one of the most important and infamous kingpin pirate leaders, responsible for the hijacking of dozens of commercial vessels from 2008 to 2013," Delmulle said.
Abdi Hassan - whose nickname, Afweyne, means "Big Mouth" - was charged with hijacking the Belgian dredger Pompei and kidnapping its nine-member crew in 2009, Delmulle said.
The Pompei's crew was released after 10 weeks in captivity when the ship's owner paid a reported $3 million ransom. Belgium caught two pirates involved in the hijacking, convicted them and sentenced them to nine and 10 years in prison.
But prosecutors still wanted the ringleaders.
"Too often, these people remain beyond reach while they let others do the dirty work," Delmulle told reporters.
Malaysian authorities almost captured the reclusive Adbi Hassan in April 2012, but a document from the Somali transitional government let him slip back home, according to a U.N. report last year that called him "one of the most notorious and influential" leaders of a piracy ring that has netted millions in ransom.
So Belgian authorities decided to go undercover to get him, because they knew he traveled very little and that an international arrest warrant would produce no results in unstable Somalia.
They approached an accomplice known as Tiiceey, dangling a fake job as an adviser to a fake movie about piracy, Delmulle said.
The two men took the bait. Tiiceey was also arrested Saturday.
The prosecutor refused to divulge any more details of the sting. The two Somalis were to appear in court Tuesday in Brugge.