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Who will stop the pirates?

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But more decisive action is needed if piracy is to be stopped, experts say.

"The bottom line is you have to stop them from being able to use their booty," says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

Among other things, he says, maritime powers should go after the pirates' bases of operation. In the case of the Somali pirates, he adds, that means taking seriously the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the pirates and the Shebab Islamist organization that controls Somalia.

The two groups do not seem to have an ideological link, says Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, but evidence suggests each benefits from the other: The pirates pay "taxes" for their haven and to avoid being shut down. The two groups have trained each other in martial and maritime skills, he adds.

More worrisome still, says Gartenstein-Ross, is the link Shebab has developed with Al Qaeda.

"If you take the communications we know exist between the two, add Al Qaeda's stated hope of bankrupting the global economy, and mix in the devastating impact of a skyrocketing price of oil because of some dramatic act of piracy against oil tankers, you see why we could wake up some day wishing we'd done a lot more to stop the Somali pirates."

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