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Somalia piracy suspect pleads guilty in US court

Somali citizen Jama Idle Ibrahim pleaded guilty [press release] Friday to several charges in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] for his role in the April attack on the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden. Ibrahim, originally charged with piracy [JURIST news archive], reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to charges of attacking to plunder a vessel, committing an act of violence against persons on a vessel and the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence. The charges carry a maximum of life imprisonment, though the terms of the plea arrangement call for a 30-year sentence. The sentencing hearing will be conducted November 29. Also Friday, the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia [official website] filed additional charges against Ibrahim for conspiracy to commit piracy and use of a firearm during a violent crime for his alleged involvement in an attack on the M/V CEC Future.

Piracy charges against Ibrahim and five other defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] earlier this month when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that the definition of piracy as defined by the law of nations under 18 USC § 1651 [text] does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas. He rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute, stating the government's definition would, "subject defendants to an enormously broad standard under a novel construction of the statute that has never been applied under United States law, and would in fact be contrary to Supreme Court case law." Several other suspected Somali pirates have faced charges in federal court this year. A Somali man charged with piracy pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in May to charges of hijacking, kidnapping and hostage-taking related to an April 2009 attack on the US container ship Maersk Alabama [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Somali officials have criticized [BBC report] the US for exercising jurisdiction over suspected pirates, insisting that piracy prosecutions should be conducted by an international tribunal. They have also asked that Somali pirate suspects be returned to Somalia, which lacks a functioning central government to address the piracy problem. Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. The few that have attempted to do so include Kenya, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

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