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Somali piracy suspect pleads guilty in DC federal court

A Somali man pleaded guilty [press release, PDF] on Wednesday to piracy [JURIST news archive] charges stemming from an attack on a Danish ship carrying cargo from a Texas-based company. Jama Idle Ibrahim pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to "conspiracy to commit piracy under the law of nations and conspiracy to use a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence." Ibrahim and other Somalis attacked the MV/CEC Future in the Gulf of Aden in November 2008. The group, armed with handguns, rocket propelled grenades and AK 47s, seized the ship and held the crew for ransom off of the Somalia coast for a total of 71 days until the ship's owner paid the ransom amount. The plea agreement states that the parties agree a 25-year prison sentence is appropriate, which is the maximum total penalty for the offenses—five years for conspiracy and 20 for firearm conspiracy. US Attorney Ronald Machen, Jr. said the charges should be viewed as a deterrent to others considering piracy attacks. "Violent acts of piracy on the high seas disrupt international trade and put human life at risk. These charges should serve as an unmistakable warning to others thinking of launching pirate attacks. Crimes on open waters in faraway oceans will be punished in an American courtroom." No sentencing date has been scheduled at this time. Ibrahim's plea marks the first plea for a piracy-related offense in the District of Columbia.

Ibrahim was charged with the offenses related to the MV/CEC Future last month, the same day he pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] to charges relating to his role in the April 2010 attack on the USS Ashland. Earlier last month, a judge for that court dismissed piracy charges [JURIST report] against Ibrahim and five other Somali men, determining that the men did not satisfy the definition of piracy under the law of nations because they fired on the ship and did not board or take control of the vessel. 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 related to an April 2009 attack on the US container ship Maersk Alabama. 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]. According to a report issued earlier this year, 2009 marked the worst year for maritime piracy [JURIST report] with 406 reported incidents.

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