NORFOLK, VA—Yesterday, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia indicted 13 Somalis and one Yemeni with pirating a yacht and taking hostage four U.S. citizens, who were ultimately killed before their release could be secured.
(The four American victims are seen in the above CBSNews.com photo. They are left to right, Scott Underwood Adam, Jean Savage Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Ridge).
Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Diego Rodriguez, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's New York Field Office; Alex J. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Norfolk Field Office; and Mark Russ, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Norfolk, made the announcement.
"This is a horrific crime, involving the armed hijacking of an American ship and the slaughter of American citizens," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "The alleged pirates will now face justice in an American courtroom."
"These 14 men are alleged to have been willing to do anything, including killing their hostages, in a vain attempt to obtain ransom," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Fedarcyk said. "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. 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."
"The Naval Criminal Investigative Service provides unique forward deployed law enforcement capabilities to the U.S. Navy's Maritime Strategy," said NCIS Special Agent in Charge Russ. "NCIS special agents are currently deployed to support the Navy's counter-piracy strategies and national objectives. This case clearly represents the undeniable aspect of violence and criminality which is associated with all acts of piracy. Additionally, the well coordinated community response demonstrates the strong working relationship between uniformed military forces and NCIS—which is a civilian agency—and our federal partners to ensure cooperative security and stability across the maritime domain."
The indictment was returned on March 8, 2011, and remained sealed until the defendants made their initial appearances before a magistrate judge in Norfolk.
According to a three-count indictment, 14 alleged pirates boarded an American sailing vessel named the Quest on Feb. 18, 2011, and held four U.S. citizens hostage for five days. The U.S. military negotiated with the alleged pirates to attempt to free the hostages. As the military continued its negotiations, at least one of the alleged pirates on board the Quest fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. Navy ship, 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.
Following the shooting of the hostages, the Somalis on the high seas were taken into custody by the U.S. military. The indictment states that the alleged pirates possessed a rocket-propelled grenade and several AK-47 and FAL assault rifles and that the defendants threw overboard additional weapons prior to being taken into custody.
All 14 men were charged with piracy, which carries a mandatory penalty 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 consecutive to all other charges.
This investigation was conducted by the FBI's New York Field Office and Norfolk Field Office and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin L. Hatch, Joseph DePadilla and Brian Samuels from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.