Suspected Somali Pirates May Be Tried In U.S.

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Five men accused of attacking a U.S. Navy ship near the Seychelles, just of the east coast of Africa, may be flown to the United States to face charges, say military officials.

The men are suspected Somali pirates, and are currently being held aboard the USS Nicholas, which is the same guided-missile frigate they attacked on April 1. After the ship was fired on, it returned fire and began pursuing the pirates’ skiff. The Navy vessel eventually triumphed, disabling the pirates’ boat and detaining three of the attackers. Two other men were captured from a “mother ship” nearby, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Navy.

The five men will be moved to the U.S. base in Djibouti before being flown to Norfolk, Virginia, where the Nicholas is based. Norfolk jurisdiction attaches to the ship, so the suspects will be turned over to Department of Justice authority in that city.

A total of 21 suspected pirates are currently being held on three Navy ships located off the coast of Africa, including the five involved in the attack on the Nicholas. Ten of the others are suspected in having attacked a ship from Oman, and will be turned over to Omani authorities. The United States assisted in the rescue of that ship, which is why they have the pirates in their custody.

The remaining six men could be sent to the United States for prosecution, if the government is able to gather enough evidence against them.

This is only the second time that the United States has pursued prosecution against suspected pirates. The first occasion followed the highly publicized hijacking of the U.S.-flagged cargo ship the Maersk Alabama, in April 2009. In that incident, which was the first successful pirate seizure of a U.S.-registered ship since the early 19th Century, Captain Richard Phillips was taken into a lifeboat by the pirates after their unsuccessful attempt to capture the ship. Three of the four captors were killed by Navy SEAL snipers, allowing Captain Phillips to be rescued. The fourth Somali pirate, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, who had been aboard a U.S. ship negotiating a ransom, was taken into custody. He is currently being held in New York while he awaits charges of piracy under the law of nations, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, and firearms charges.

The United States had originally attempted to have the five men accused in the Nicholas attack tried in Kenya, but the Kenyan government refused on the grounds that its court system is already overburdened and cannot accept more cases. Instead, they are expected to be tried in federal court.

 

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