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Mohammad Saaili Shibin acted as chief negotiator for pirates who took four Americans hostage and killed them.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin acted as chief negotiator for pirates who took four Americans hostage and killed them.

Somali pirate sentenced to 12 life terms in US court

Mohammad Saaili Shibin was sentenced for his role in the hijackings of a German vessel, and a US yacht, upon which four Americans were murdered.

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA // A federal judge ordered a Somali pirate to serve a dozen life sentences in prison for his role in the hijacking of a German merchant vessel and a US yacht, saying the hostage negotiator was lucky he was not facing the death penalty.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin is considered by US authorities to be the highest-ranking pirate they have ever captured. Shibin had direct ties to those who finance pirate operations from ashore in largely lawless Somalia.

Four Americans aboard the Quest were shot to death by pirates off the coast of Africa in 2011, and the crew on the other vessel was tortured to get a higher ransom in 2010.

Robert Doumar, the US district judge, told Shibin on Monday he was "very lucky" he was not facing a death sentence, although no death penalty-eligible charges were brought against him.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the three men charged with shooting the Americans. Eleven other men in the case who boarded the Quest have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to life in prison.

Shibin, who speaks several languages including English, declined to make any statements before he was sentenced.

US authorities are hoping the sentence will send a message to pirates to stay away from American-flagged ships.

"I think this case explodes the myth, if still it exists out there, that pirates are some kind of romantic swashbuckling characters from Hollywood summer movies. This case showed that pirates are brutal, greedy, reckless, desperate criminals who will kidnap, torture and ultimately kill hostages in pursuit of their financial greed," Neil MacBride, the US attorney, said after sentencing.

The yacht owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, California, along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first US citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean despite a regular patrol of international warships. Negotiations with a US navy ship that was shadowing the Quest were underway when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at it and shots aboard the yacht rang out. By the time Navy Seals scrambled onboard the boat, the Americans had already been shot.

Shibin was convicted this year of the 15 charges he faced, including piracy, kidnapping and hostage-taking. Of the 12 life sentences, 10 of them will run concurrently while two were ordered to serve consecutively. Shibin was also ordered to pay $5.4 million (Dh19.8m) in restitution.

Shibin's attorney James Broccoletti said he will appeal the conviction. He believes the definition of piracy may ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court.

In May, a federal appeals court ruled in another case that an armed attack on a US vessel can be considered piracy even if no one ever boards or robs the ship. In Shibin's case, he never set out to sea or boarded the Quest. Instead, he researched the victims online from shore to determine how large of a ransom to seek for them. In the case of the German ship, he didn't board it until after it had already been hijacked by other pirates and was in Somali waters.

"He's never been on the high seas and so I think that eventually the Supreme Court's going to have to decide in the modern era what is piracy, what is the law of piracy, what does one have to do to be guilty of piracy," he said.

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