The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Friday charged three Somali pirates with 26 counts for acts of piracy in the hijacking of a US vessel that resulted in the deaths of four US citizens. If convicted, the men could face death sentences [FBI press release] for a majority of the counts, which include kidnapping, hostage-taking and murder. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride noted the serious nature of the charges:
The superseding indictment accuses these three men of summarily executing the hostages—without provocation—while the military was attempting to negotiate their release. With the additional charges, the defendants now potentially face a death sentence if convicted of these horrendous crimes, and the superseding indictment constitutes another important step in bringing to justice those accused of being directly responsible for the killing of innocent Americans. Today's charges underscore that we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to attacks on our citizens.The men are accused of hijacking a US yacht called Quest in February, in which four Americans were taken hostage and later killed by the pirates. They were the first US citizens to die in the recent wave of international maritime piracy [JURIST news archive]. The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service [official website] are investigating the case and the court has scheduled an arraignment for July 20. In March, a grand jury in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted 14 suspects, 13 Somali and one Yemeni, for hijacking the Quest. The Yemeni suspect pleaded guilty [JURIST report] Thursday and awaits sentencing scheduled for October. Several other suspects pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in May.
Piracy remains an issue of international concern, as few countries have been willing to prosecute suspected pirates. 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 for attacking a Danish ship off the coast of Somalia in 2008, for which he and other pirates received a $1.7 million ransom. The few countries that have attempted to prosecute them include Germany, Seychelles, the Netherlands, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].