US & Canada

Somali pirates plead guilty in US to Quest hijacking

Jean and Scott Adam, in a photo provided by a family friend
Image caption Jean and Scott Adam were shot to death, along with two passengers Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay

Three Somali men have pleaded guilty in US federal court to piracy for their role in a hijacking that ended in the deaths of four American sailors.

They face life sentences, but could receive lighter terms and eventually be deported to Somalia.

Two of them also pleaded guilty to hostage taking at the Virginia court.

The men are among 15 who have been charged for their roles in the February hijacking of the Quest. The yacht's owners and two guests were shot dead.

The group of pirates were negotiating with the US military to release the Americans - Scott and Jean Adam, and Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay - when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the yacht at the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.

No killing role

Gunfire then broke out inside the yacht, and US special forces were sent to investigate. The pirates killed their hostages before the troops boarded, the US military said.

The troops shot dead two pirates as they boarded and another two were found dead when they arrived, it added.

At least three of the accused killed the hostages without provocation, prosecutors allege.

Mohamud Salad Ali, Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali and Ali Abdi Mohamed, who pleaded guilty on Friday, stated in their plea agreements that they played no direct role in the killings.

Several others charged in the case have plea hearings next week.

Court filings viewed by the BBC include new details provided by the three pirates about the fatal encounter, in which four pirates died in a gunfight amongst their own numbers.

According to statements the men made to prosecutors, in February pirates were cruising the Indian Ocean in a hijacked Yemeni vessel, looking for a ship to attack.

They had been at sea for eight days and were about 900 miles from their home port of Xaafuun, Somalia and running out of fuel when they came across the Quest sitting in the water.

The band included a captured Yemeni man who had agreed to join the pirates in return for a share in the ransom money.

Armed with AK-47s and other weapons, 19 men boarded boarded the Quest, then released four Yemeni hostages on their own boat.

The pirates were sailing the Quest - with the four American hostages - back to Somalia to begin ransom negotiations when they were intercepted by an American warship.

Gunfight on board

According to his statement, Mohamud Salad Ali boarded the US Navy ship to discuss the situation. The Navy offered the pirates safe passage to Somalia in the Quest if they agreed to let the four Americans go, but Ali refused the deal and was arrested.

Meanwhile, back on the Quest, Ali Abdi Mohamed was given a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with one round, while seven pirates guarded the hostages in the Quest's wheelhouse, Mohamed told prosecutors.

A pirate who was later killed in a firefight ordered Mohamed to fire a warning shot at the US ship, but not to strike it.

At that point, a gunfire broke out among the pirates on the Quest. The hostages and four pirates were shot dead.

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