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Federal judge releases accused Somali pirate

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] released an accused Somali pirate Tuesday after prosecutors failed to produce sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. English-speaking Somali citizen Ali Mohamed Ali, 50, was scheduled to be tried next week [AP report] on charges of conspiracy to commit piracy, piracy and aiding and abetting, conspiracy to commit hostage taking and hostage taking and aiding and abetting, accused of boarding a Bahamian ship two days after it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and communicating the pirates' ransom demands during the 69 days the vessel was held. Last week Judge Ellen Huvelle dismissed the count of conspiracy to commit piracy [opinion, PDF] because such a prosecution would violate international law, which does not recognize conspiracy to commit piracy as a universal jurisdiction offense and to which Congress has deferred in defining extraterritorial jurisdiction for the crime. At that time Huvelle told prosecutors that they would need to prove that Ali "intentionally facilitated acts of piracy while he was on the high seas" and not in Somalia territorial waters or elsewhere. She dismissed the case and ordered Ali placed on house arrest when she learned that prosecutors were prepared to present evidence only that Ali was in international waters for 24 to 28 minutes. Prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling, which could take a year, during which Ali will remain on home confinement.

Earlier this week the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau (IMB) [official website] reported that the number of global pirate attacks fell sharply [JURIST report] in the first half of 2012, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre [official website] (PRC) having received reports [materials] of 177 incidents in the first six months of this year, compared to 266 incidents for the same period in 2011. In May the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled that the legal definition of maritime piracy [JURIST news archive] includes an armed attack to hijack a ship, even if the attempt is unsuccessful. Earlier that week a United Arab Emirates court sentenced 10 Somali pirates [JURIST report] to 25 years in prison. Also that week six accused Somali pirates went on trial [JURIST report] in a Paris court for taking 30 crew members hostage in 2008 on a ship in the Gulf of Aden. The US government in March handed over 15 suspected Somali pirates [JURIST report] it had captured in January to the Republic of Seychelles for prosecution. Italy ordered its first international piracy trial in February against nine Somali pirates, while France began its first international piracy trial [JURIST reports] in November. In October the UN Security Council adopted a resolution encouraging states to criminalize and punish piracy after maritime piracy reached an all-time high [JURIST reports] last year.

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