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Somali man indicted in US as alleged pirate leader

A suspected Somali pirate leader appeared [DOJ press release] for a detention hearing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Wednesday after his March 8 indictment was unsealed. In his announcement, US Attorney Neil MacBride wrote, "[t]oday marks the first time that the U.S. government has captured and charged an alleged pirate in a leadership role—a hostage negotiator who operated in Somalia." Mohammad Saaili Shibin, 50, was reportedly captured by the FBI and military on April 4 and sent to the US to face criminal charges for negotiating ransom payments for four Americans who were kidnapped in February when their yacht was hijacked near Oman. All four hostages were subsequently killed. According to news reports [Reuters report], pirates seized the yacht and were negotiating with the US military when a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the destroyer USS Sterett. Gunfire then broke out inside the pirate vessel, which prompted American special forces to board the ship, killing two pirates in the process, only to find two more dead pirates and the four slain hostages. Shibin's indictment alleges he performed Internet research to determine both an appropriate ransom amount for the hostages and how to contact their families to make demands for payment. Shibin and 14 alleged co-conspirators have been charged with piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and use of firearms during a crime of violence. If convicted the men could face life in prison. Shibin will remain in federal custody, with his arraignment scheduled for April 27.

Kenya, Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports] have all attempted to prosecute suspected Somali pirates. In the past few months, US courts have sentenced Somali pirates to 25 years, life and 34 years [JURIST reports] in prison. However, in August a federal judge dismissed piracy charges against 6 Somalis [JURIST report] because the government "failed to establish that any unauthorized acts of violence or aggression committed on the high seas constitutes piracy" under 18 USC § 1651 [text]. Somali officials have criticized [BBC report] the US for exercising jurisdiction over suspected Somali pirates and have called for piracy cases to be handled by an international tribunal. Oceans Beyond Piracy [advocacy website] has estimated the total cost of piracy [report, PDF] in 2010 to be in the range of $7-12 billion, including $148 million spent on ransoms and up to $3 billion on re-routing ships. At the end of 2010, approximately 500 individuals were being held hostage by Somali pirates.

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