A federal grand jury in Virginia has indicted 13 Somalis and one Yemeni with pirating a yacht and taking hostage four Americans, who were killed before their release could be secured.
U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride, in announcing the indictment on Thursday, described the case as a “horrific crime,” involving the armed hijacking of an American yacht last month south of Oman in the Arabian Sea and the “slaughter” of U.S. citizens.
“The alleged pirates will now face justice in an American courtroom,” he said.
The indictment was returned on Tuesday, but remained sealed until the defendants made their initial appearance before a magistrate judge in Norfolk, Va.
According to a three-count indictment, 14 suspected pirates boarded an American sailing vessel named the Quest on Feb. 18, and held the four Americans hostage for five days. The hostages were identified as Jean and Scott Adam, who owned the yacht, and their friends, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay. The deaths marked the first time Americans have been killed in the pirate attacks and hijackings that have plagued the region in recent years.
The U.S. military negotiated with the pirates to attempt to free the hostages and, the indictment said, as the military continued its negotiations, at least one of the pirates on board the Quest fired a rocket-propelled-grenade (RPG) at a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, 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, the indictment said.
Following the shooting of the hostages, the Somalis on the high seas were taken into custody by the U.S. military. The indictment said the pirates possessed an RPG launcher and several AK-47s and FAL assault rifles and threw overboard additional weapons prior to being taken into custody.
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk, who heads the bureau’s New York office, said the 14 men named in the indictment were “willing to do anything, including killing their hostages, in a vain attempt to obtain ransom.”
“Modern-day piracy has real and serious consequences; disrupting commerce and threatening Americans’ lives. It is a crime against the international community, a form of terrorism on the high seas,” Ms. Fedarcyk said. “Today’s charges should send a clear message to those who attempt to engage in piracy against Americans or American vessels. Even on the open ocean, you are not beyond the reach of American justice.”
All 14 men were charged with piracy, which carries a mandatory sentence 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 consecutively to all other charges.
The indictment does not include murder charges against any of the suspected pirates, but says that at least three of the defendants fatally shot the Americans.