Somali pirates sentenced for role in murder of U.S. citizens

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Two Somali pirates were sentenced to life in prison this week for their roles in the attacks against the S/V Quest that resulted in the murder of four U.S. citizens.

Ali Abdi Mohamed, a/k/a Basher, 30, and Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf, a/k/a Burhan or Famah, 31, both of Somalia, were sentenced in federal court in Norfolk, Va.

“Piracy is a scourge that threatens nations, commerce and individual lives,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement. “This is the first case where American lives have been lost due to Somali piracy, and as Somali pirates expand their territory, the risk of violence and harm to others continues to grow. Today’s sentences send a message to all those who participate in piracy that armed attacks on the high seas carry lifelong consequences.”

The Americans aboard the Quest were Scott and Jean Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., who owned the yacht, and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Washington state. The attack occurred in waters off the coast of Oman.

Mohamed and Yusuf pleaded guilty to piracy, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Nine co-conspirators also have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in the coming weeks. Three men — Ahmed Muse Salad, a/k/a “Afmagalo,” 25; Abukar Osman Beyle, 20; and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 29 — have been charged in a 26-count superseding indictment with the kidnapping, hostage-taking and murder of the four U.S. citizens on board the Quest; 22 of the 26 counts are death-eligible offenses.

Court documents indicate that Mohamed and Yusuf were among 19 Somalis who conspired to sail the high seas in search of a vessel to pirate and hold for ransom, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The men anticipated receiving a percentage of whatever ransom they received after paying about 35 percent to the operation’s financier.

On Aug. 18, Mohammad Saaili Shibin, a/k/a “Khalif Ahmed Shibin,” a/k/a “Shibin,” 50, of Somalia, was charged in a superseding indictment with being a ransom negotiator in the attack on the Quest and serving in a similar role in a separate attack on the M/V Marida Marguerite, a German-owned vessel with a crew of 22 men who were held hostage off the coast of Somalia from May to December 2010.

The indictment says Shibin received about $30,000 to $50,000 in U.S. currency as his share of the ransom payment. The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are conducting the investigation.

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