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Accused Somali pirate pleads not guilty to hijacking charges

A Somali man pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] to piracy, kidnapping and weapons charges related to a yacht hijacking in February that left four Americans dead. Mohammad Saaili Shibin is believed to have been the chief negotiator for the pirates [AP report] accused of the highjacking. Shibin, unlike the other pirates suspected in the hijacking, never boarded the yacht and acted as chief negotiator for the pirates who took control of the American-manned yacht in the Arabian Sea. Shibin, whom the US believes to be the highest-ranking pirate it has ever captured, is the first suspected pirate to be taken into custody in Somalia rather than at sea. Though Shibin denies guilt in this case, he acknowledged being paid $30,000 for his participation in negotiating the return of a German vessel that was taken hostage by pirates in May. The US government is currently negotiating with the German government, and additional charges are likely to be brought against Shidin in that case.

In April, a Somali pirate was sentenced [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to 25 years in prison [press release, PDF] for attacking a Danish ship off the coast of Somalia in 2008, for which he and other pirates received a $1.7 million ransom. In March, a grand jury in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted [text, PDF] 14 suspects for overtaking Quest, a yacht operated by four Americans. The Americans, who were taken as hostages and later killed by the pirates, were the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. The suspects, 13 Somali and one Yemeni, were charged [JURIST report] with piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and the use of firearms during a crime. 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 Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

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