After three years, Iran’s intelligence forces reveal how meticulously they have been following up the operation of rescuing Iranian sailors from the captivity of pirates in Somalia, and how important it was, for their operation, to be kept secret until sailors’ arrival to Tehran.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said on Thursday that his ministry’s agents secured the fishermen’s release through a long process and despite tight security controls by the pirates.
The sailors Masoud Balouchi, Ahmad Balouchi, Adam Balouchi and Shir-Mohammad Tabezar, kidnapped three years ago in international waters near Somalia were welcomed by Alavi in Tehran on Thursday.
An Iranian intelligence expert who spoke to Iran’s View on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation, brought light to some details of Iranian intelligence efforts during the past three years. Since Iran’s Intelligence officials rarely, if ever, promote and publicize their successful operations, interviews as such showcase Iran’s capabilities and strengths, especially in a region predominantly under control of United States’ and Israel’s intelligence forces, who for long have bragged about their successes in fight against terrorism.
Oversea Counterintelligence Operations Against US
In fact, Iran has shown deeper roots and further expanded network in fight against terrorism in Africa, according to the fore mentioned intelligence official, who stated Iran’s intelligence forces have previously secured Iranian citizens’ safety in different occasions.
The Iranian intelligence expert told Iran’s View–under conditions of anonymity–they have been able to secure the release of the country’s nationals captured in different parts of the world. However, these operations are usually shrouded in secrecy not publicized in mainstream media. In some cases, the forces could also secure the release of Iranians captured by the US over alleged sanction-busting attempts.
In an interview with Jam e Jam news paper, four recently-rescued sailors’ have shared the sorrow of losing eight other friends and relatives during hunger and torture and have shown their tortured bodies, burnt skins, marks of broken bones, and pulled out teeth to the camera, and amidst all this sorrow, they have also shared their deep and tremendous thankfulness to their rescuers, as their freedom has seemed out of the horizon to them, for a very long time. Being so not aware of news, politics, and current world, the sailors even thanked the deceased Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani for their freedom, and wished him health, upon their arrival in the airport, according to Jam-e-Jam’s interview.
Diplomatic Bids Failed
“The fishermen’s boat got captivated by Somalian pirates in March 2015, 460 kilometers away from Somalian shore. We started our efforts to set the captivated sailors free since then.” Iranian intelligence official expert on the case said.
The Intelligence expert said the ministry started its overseas operation after attempts through diplomatic channels were not making any progress.
The intelligence operation for the release of the sailors was highly challenging as the sailors were not held by a government or an official organization, he said.
Unsuccessful Prisoner Swap
The expert added that the Intelligence Ministry arranged a prisoner swap with one of the pirates’ leaders to free the four fishermen but that plan hit the wall when the pirates did not show up at the arranged rendezvous.
The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden where Somali pirates frequently attacked ships since November 2008 to safeguard maritime traffic, especially for the country’s ships and oil tankers.
During their safeguard operations, the Iranian navy thwarted several hijacking attempts by the pirates and captured some them.
In 2017 we arranged a prisoner swap with one of the pirates’ leaders to give back four imprisoned pirates and set the sailors free but that plan was aborted as the captors did not show up.
The operation was conducted by the Intelligence Ministry in close collaboration with the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)–the commando arm of forces which is in charge of overseas operations, he told the daily.
The official continued: “In the second stage we sent a team from Tanzania to the region to rescue the sailors by sea. A fishing boat was chosen to conduct the mission off the coast of to Kismayo peninsula in southeastern Somalia.
But the ship movements were restricted after it became clear that US drone are conducting reconnaissance operation in the area over suspected Al-Qaeda activities.
The mission was finally called off after the ship’s manouvering ability in the area were heavily restricted by the US drones’ presence, the intelligence official said, highlighting the fact that the operation could be severely damaged if the US became aware of it.
Finally, we operated on the ground and sat our captivated sailors free from the hands of the pirates. Due to the complexity of the return process we didn’t let sailors contact their families during the operation and until they landed in Iran we didn’t announce the news.”