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November 25, 2010

U.S. court convicts five Somalis of piracy

A federal jury in Norfolk, Va., on Wednesday convicted five men from Somalia of engaging in piracy and related offenses in their attack on the USS Nicholas. It is believed to be the first piracy trial conviction in the United States since 1820.

After nine days of trial, the jury convicted the five men -- Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher, and Abdi Mohammed Umar, all from Somalia -- 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 and employees, conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence, and multiple firearm counts, including the use of a rocket propelled grenade (RPG).

The convicted Somali pirates face a mandatory penalty of life in prison when they are sentenced on March 14, 2011.

"Today marks the first jury conviction of piracy in more than 190 years," said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "These five Somali pirates were convicted of an armed assault on the high seas against what they thought was a merchant vessel, but turned out to be a U.S. Navy frigate engaged in counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Modern-day pirates not only threaten human lives but also disrupt international commerce by extorting hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments. Today's conviction demonstrates that armed attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels are crimes against the international community and that pirates will face severe consequences in U.S. courts."

"Ensuring maritime security on the world's seas continues to be a high priority for NCIS as part of the international law enforcement community," said Mark Russ, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Norfolk. "NCIS is forward deployed with U.S. naval forces and is able to deliver a unique blend of capabilities to help deter and prosecute pirates."

The Somalis were indicted on April 21, 2010, and were later charged with additional crimes in a 14-count superseding indictment on July 7, 2010. According to evidence and trial testimony, the five men left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. 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. On April 1, 2010, Hasan, Ali, and Dire boarded one of these smaller vessels and set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship, while Gurewardher and Umar remained onboard the large ship to maintain that ship during the attack.

Ali and Dire each carried an assault weapon, and Hasan carried an RPG. They opened fire on a ship, which they later discovered was the USS Nicholas, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate homeported in Norfolk, Va.

The piracy conviction and the conviction for the use of a destructive device (an RPG) in relation to a crime of violence both carry a mandatory penalty of life in prison. In addition, they are facing a maximum of 10 years in prison for attack to plunder a vessel; a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy and an act of violence against persons on a vessel; a maximum of 10 years in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon in the special maritime jurisdiction; a maximum of 20 years in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees; a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence; a maximum of 10 years in prison for one count of use of a firearm during a crime of violence, a second firearm count carries an additional 25 years -- to equal 35 years -- in prison.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph DePadilla, John Davis, and Benjamin L. Hatch from the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Jerome Teresinski from the Department of Justice's National Security Division prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.


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