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 Post subject: US jury finds Somalis guilty of piracy
 Post Posted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 1:26 am 
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http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101125/ts ... shippingus

– Thu Nov 25, 5:50 am ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Five Somalis were found guilty of piracy for attacking a US vessel in the Indian Ocean, the first US convictions on such charges in nearly two centuries, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

A jury in the port city of Norfolk, Virginia found the men guilty of the April attack on the navy frigate USS Nicholas -- which they mistook for a merchant vessel -- from a small skiff in April.

The ruling marks "what is believed to be the first piracy trial conviction in the United States since 1820," the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

According to trial testimony, the men sailed from Somalia searching for a merchant ship to raid. "They used a larger ship full of supplies, along with two smaller vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that served as attack boats," the statement read.

On April 1, three of the suspects boarded one of the smaller vessels "and set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship."

The men opened fire on a ship which turned out to be the Norfolk-based USS Nicholas.

The men were caught when the Nicholas returned fire and chased down their small boat and the mother ship.

The defendants claimed that they were fishermen who had been kidnapped and forced into piracy at gunpoint, and sought to be rescued when they saw the vessel they were facing.

"Does anyone really believe that three guys in an 18-foot (5.5 meter) boat with two AK-47s and an RPG were going to take over a US warship?" asked Jon Babineau, one of the defense attorneys.

Babineau said after the jury ruling that he was "disappointed in a system of justice that is supposed to be based on fairness."

The Somalis were convicted on charges of piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, act of violence against persons on a vessel, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers, conspiracy to use firearms during a violent crime, and firearm counts including the use of a rocket propelled grenade (RPG).

The convictions on piracy and use of a destructive device (the RPG) both carry a mandatory penalty of life in prison. The other convictions carry additional sentences of between 10 and 25 years prison.

The men will be sentenced on March 14, the Justice Department said.

Warships now patrol the Indian Ocean after a series of spectacular hijackings in the Gulf of Aden propelled Somali piracy to the forefront of international attention in late 2008 and early 2009.

Piracy is a growing problem off the coast of lawless Somalia, with both the number of attacks and the ransoms demanded spiking over the past two years, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

Twenty-three vessels and around 500 crew members are currently held by Somali pirates, the bureau said.

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