NORFOLK, Virginia (AP) — A U.S. jury has recommended that three Somali pirates be sentenced to life in prison in the killing of four Americans aboard their yacht off the east coast of Africa.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty. But the jury recommended the only other possible sentence Friday for Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar. Formal sentencing comes later.
The Americans were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in recent years.
The three Somali men were among 19 who boarded the yacht in February 2011 in hopes of taking the Americans to Somalia and ransoming them for millions of dollars. The plan fell apart when the U.S. Navy began following the yacht.
The Navy had told the pirates that they could keep the yacht in exchange for the hostages, but they refused to take the deal because they didn’t believe they would get enough money.
As the yacht neared the Somali coastline, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the Navy ship. Soon after, gunshots were fired on board the yacht.
Eleven other defendants who were aboard the yacht have already pleaded guilty to piracy and have been sentenced to life in prison.
Four other suspected pirates were killed aboard the yacht. A fifth suspected pirate was released because he was a juvenile.
Another man who prosecutors say was a land-based negotiator and the highest-ranking pirate they’ve ever captured has been convicted of piracy and sentenced to a dozen life sentences in prison.
Michael Scharf, a Case Western Reserve University international law professor, said this case was different because most pirates convicted in other countries receive relatively light sentences.
“To the Somalians, who live in miserable conditions, a short sentence in a foreign jail, where they receive three meals a day, exercise, and educational training, isn’t much of a deterrent,” Scharf said in an email. “So the U.S. sought the ultimate punishment, not just because U.S citizens happened to be the victims, but to send the strongest possible signal. That the jury returned a life sentence instead may blunt that somewhat.”