NORFOLK, VIRGINIA // The lawyer of a Somali man accused of being the highest-ranking pirate the US has prosecuted wants the piracy charge against him dismissed, claiming his client did not commit robbery at sea.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin has been charged with piracy, kidnapping and possession of weapons for his role in the hijacking of a yacht off the coast of Africa that left all four Americans on-board dead.
Prosecutors have said Mr Shibin never boarded the yacht Quest, but operated from land in Somalia to determine how much money the hostages could be ransomed for once they were brought to Somalia.
Mr Shibin's lawyer, James Broccoletti, wrote in a court filing on Monday that merely communicating with those who boarded the Quest had not constituted piracy.
"This count should be dismissed because under no set of facts was the offence of 'piracy' committed," he wrote.
The government has not filed a response yet and the US Attorney's Office declined to comment yesterday. This is the third case in which the definition of piracy has come under scrutiny. Exactly what constitutes piracy has been contested in a federal appeals court in two other cases involving attacks on the USS Nicholas and the USS Ashland.
The US statute mandating a life sentence for piracy states that the crime of piracy was defined by "the law of nations" and was written in 1819. Lawyers for Somali men in those cases contend piracy never occurred because they had not boarded either ship.
The government contends that the US definition of piracy is based on an evolving international definition that was different now than when the US law was written.