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U.S. to seek death penalty in Somalian yacht hijacking

By Brok Vergakis

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:42 p.m. HST, May 1, 2012

NORFOLK, Va. >>  Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against three Somalis charged with fatally shooting four Americans aboard a hijacked yacht last year.

Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar could also face the death penalty on numerous other charges related to the February, 2011 hijacking. They include hostage taking resulting in death, violence against maritime navigation resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death. In total, 22 of the 26 counts are death-eligible offenses.

The decision to seek the death penalty is made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A document disclosing the prosecutors' intent was filed on Monday.

The owners of the yacht Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first Americans to be killed in a wave of pirate attacks off the coast of east Africa despite an international flotilla of warships that regularly patrol the area. Ships and their crews are typically targeted by pirates in hopes of securing multi-million dollar ransoms.

Pirates had been hoping to bring the Americans back to Somalia to conduct ransom negotiations, but that plan fell apart when U.S. Navy warships began shadowing the Quest.

The destroyer USS Sterett was maneuvering between the Quest and the Somali coast when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at it. Soon after, shots were fired on board the Quest.

In all, 19 men boarded the American yacht during the hijacking. Four of the hijackers died on board — including two who have also been identified in court records as those who shot at the Americans. One person was released by authorities because he is a juvenile. Eleven other men have pleaded guilty to piracy and been sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the case.

A 12th man who never boarded the Quest and was identified as the lead hostage negotiator was convicted of piracy on Friday. He also faces a mandatory life sentence.

Prosecutors wanted to wait until that case was over before unsealing their filing to seek the death penalty involving the three Somalis because they are concerned about the publicity it might bring. The filing submitted Monday seeks to unseal that filing.

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