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Federal court begins trial of accused Somali pirates

Jury selection began Tuesday [court notice] in the case of five Somali men accused of an April attack on the USS Nichols, which was deployed to combat piracy in waters off the eastern coast of Africa. In July, the men pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to a number of charges, including conspiracy, piracy and attack with the intent to plunder a vessel. They were charged by a federal grand jury [JURIST report] in April, along with six others accused of attacking the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden. The trial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] is the first US piracy trial in more than 100 years.

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]. Another group of nine pleaded not guilty to piracy charges [JURIST report] in May. Somali officials have criticized [BBC report] the US for exercising jurisdiction over Muse and other pirate suspects, 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, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

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