US & Canada

Somali pirates jailed in US over American deaths

Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, Abukar Osman Beyle and Ahmed Muse Salad leave the federal courthouse at an earlier hearing in Norfolk, Virginia, on 4 June 2013
Image caption Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar (front, left), Abukar Osman Beyle (back, centre) and Ahmed Muse Salad (front, right) were all convicted of murder and piracy this week

A US court has sentenced two Somali pirates to life in prison without parole for their role in the killing of four Americans aboard a yacht off the Horn of Africa in February 2011.

Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar were convicted of murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking and piracy.

Prosecutors say 19 Somalis, 14 of whom have now been sentenced, boarded the yacht to take the Americans for ransom.

The hostages died after negotiations with the US Navy broke down.

The victims were the yacht's owners, Jean Adam, 66, and her husband Scott Adam, 70 - a former producer who worked on classic TV show The Love Boat - and their two friends Phyllis Patricia Macay, 59, and Robert Riggle, 67.

They had been sailing round the world distributing Bibles when their yacht was boarded by pirates off the Horn of Africa on 18 February, 2011.

Prosecutors said the pirates intended to take their hostages to Somalia, so that they could be ransomed for millions of dollars.

'Zero tolerance'

But the US Navy dispatched vessels to the aid of the yacht's crew after they sent out a distress signal.

There followed four days of negotiations between the US Navy and the pirates.

Image caption Jean and Scott Adam were shot dead, along with Robert Riggle and Phyllis Macay

The court in Norfolk, Virginia, heard that the talks broke down as the yacht was approaching the Somali coastline.

The pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade towards one of the US vessels, the destroyer USS Sterett, after which gunshots were fired on board the yacht, said prosecutors.

Four of the Somali men died during the US Navy's attempt to rescue the hostages. By the time US Navy Seals boarded the yacht, all four Americans had been fatally wounded.

Dana Boente, acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar were each given 21 life sentences.

The sentences related to one charge of piracy, plus charges of murder for each American killed, as well as kidnapping resulting in death, hostage-taking resulting in death, violence against maritime navigation resulting in death, and the use of a firearm causing death.

Prosecutors had asked for the men to be given the death penalty.

"These defendants, in violation of US and international law, commandeered an American-flagged sailing vessel, refused to release the hostages to the Navy, and brutally murdered the four Americans on board," said Acting US Attorney Dana Boente in a statement.

"The multiple, consecutive life sentences imposed today send a clear message that piracy, hostage-taking, and murder on the high seas will not be tolerated."

A third man, Ahmed Muse Salad, received the same life sentences on Tuesday.

Eleven other Somali men had already been sentenced to life in prison for their parts in the attack.

One further suspected pirate was released by the US authorities because he was adjudged to be a juvenile.

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