Alleged Somali pirate negotiator indicted and brought to U.S.

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pirateflagMohammad Shibin, allegedly identified by conspirators as the person in Somalia responsible for negotiating the ransom of four U.S. citizens held hostage on the high seas, has been indicted by a federal grand jury, apprehended in Somalia and transferred to the United States to face charges.

Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office; and Alex J. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, made the announcement yesterday.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin, a/k/a “Khalif Ahmed Shibin,” a/k/a “Shibin,” of Somalia, was indicted on March 8, 2011, by a federal grand jury in Norfolk, Va., in association with the alleged pirating of an American yacht, the S/V Quest, and taking hostage four U.S. citizens, who were ultimately killed before their release could be secured. The indictment remained sealed until Shibin made a court appearance on April 13, 2011. Fourteen co-conspirators were indicted the same day and are awaiting a jury trial currently scheduled to begin on Nov. 29, 2011.

According to the indictment, Shibin was not among the conspirators who allegedly sailed the high seas and eventually boarded the Quest on Feb. 18, 2011, holding four U.S. citizens hostage for five days.

As the U.S. military attempted to negotiate with the alleged pirates to attempt to free the hostages, they were informed by one of the conspirators on the Quest that Shibin was the person responsible for negotiating the return of the hostages on board the Quest upon their arrival in Somalia. The indictment alleges that during this period of negotiation, Shibin conducted research on the Internet to learn about the hostages on the Quest and determine the amount of ransom to demand, along with the identity of family members of the hostages whom he could contact about the ransom.

While the military continued its negotiations, at least one of the alleged pirates on board the Quest fired a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) at a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Sterett. That same day–without provocation–at least three of the men on the Quest allegedly intentionally shot and killed the four hostages before their release could be secured.

Following the shooting of the hostages, the Somalis on the high seas were taken into custody by the U.S. military. Court records allege that the men possessed an RPG and several AK-47 and FAL assault rifles.

Shibin and his conspirators are charged with piracy, which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison. In addition, the indictment also charges them with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, and the use of a destructive device during a crime of violence. The latter charge carries a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison, which would run consecutive to all other charges.

“The arrest of Mohammad Shibin is a significant breakthrough in the United States’ battle against Somali pirates,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “Today marks the first time that the U.S. government has captured and charged an alleged pirate in a leadership role–a hostage negotiator who operated in Somalia. We hope that this indictment will strike at the heart of the piracy business and send a strong message to all pirates that they are not beyond the reach of the FBI, whether they board the ships or remain on-shore in Somalia.”

“As 14 heavily armed men holed-up aboard the Quest, Mohammad Shibin allegedly worked behind the scenes determining exactly how much cash could be extorted for the Americans’ safe release,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk. “The FBI remains committed to eradicating this racket of extortion, kidnapping, and killing.”

This investigation was conducted by the FBI’s New York Field Office and Norfolk Field Office, with assistance from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin L. Hatch, Joseph E. DePadilla, and Brian J. Samuels from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Paul Casey of the Counterterrorism Section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

April 15, 2011

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