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Somali pirates release ill Iranian hostage captured in 2015

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French special forces on patrol against pirates near Somalia in 2014. (Photo by EPA)

Somali pirates have released a sick Iranian hostage they captured more than four years ago due to his urgent need to medical care, a humanitarian group says.

The Iranian man, identified as Mohammad Shariff Panahandeh, was flown to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, from the city of Garowe on Saturday, the Hostage Support Partnership (HSP), the charity that negotiated his release, said in a statement.

“He’s severely malnourished. He lost a huge amount of weight. It reminded me of someone who’s just been released from Belsen (a Nazi) concentration camp,” John Steed of the HSP said.

He added that Panahandeh’s health had deteriorated significantly in recent weeks and he was suffering from “severe stomach problems and internal bleeding.”

His release meant that just three other hostages now remain in the custody of Somali pirates, Steed further said, adding that their Iranian fishing vessel had been captured in March 2015.

According to the organization, Panahandeh will return to Iran in the coming days after medical tests, adding that the remaining hostages are being held in “appalling conditions.”

The HSP said Somali community leaders had been crucial in the negotiations.

Piracy used to be a major problem in the Gulf of Aden as Somali pirates frequently attacked ships, seized their cargoes and kidnapped crew members, later demanding ransom for their release. Over the past years, the threat has largely subsided after international warships were deployed to the area to protect vessels.

The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008 to safeguard maritime traffic, especially for the country's ships and oil tankers.

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