A Somali man pleaded guilty [FBI press release] to charges of piracy and hostage taking on Friday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] for overtaking a yacht containing four American citizens. The Americans, taken as hostages, were later killed by the pirates, the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, and is the first to plead out of the 14 men indicted [JURIST report]. Ten others are expected to plead soon [AFP report]. Although sentences will not be delivered until September [AP/PilotOnline report], as a condition of the plea agreement, Issa Ali and the others have agreed to extradition after their sentences are up. All are expected to receive life sentences
Earlier this month, Spain's National Court sentenced [JURIST report] two Somali pirates to 439 years in prison each for their involvement in the 2009 hijacking of a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of Somalia. Last month, a US district court sentenced a Somali pirate to 25 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in attacking a Danish ship, as well as the US Navy's USS Ashland. In November, a federal jury in Virginia convicted [JURIST report] five Somali men on charges of piracy for their roles in an April attack on the USS Nichols. In August, piracy charges against six defendants were dismissed [JURIST report] when federal Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that piracy, as defined by the law of nations, does not include violence or aggression committed on the high seas, and rejected the government's argument for an expanded reading of the statute. 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].