Somali 'pirates' set for federal trial in US

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The Independent US

Five somalis accused of firing assault rifles at a US Navy ship off the coast of Africa are to face the first American piracy trial in more than 100 years.

The alleged pirates are accused of shooting at the USS Nicholas in an attempt to plunder what they thought was a merchant ship. The 453ft ship shot back, forcing the men to flee in their small skiff, prosecutors said. The men were captured and transported to the US for a federal trial, which is scheduled to start tomorrow and is expected to last about a month.

The most infamous pirate captured in the spring was Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse. He staged a brazen high-seas attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama and pleaded guilty in New York to charges that he hijacked the ship and kidnapped its captain. He faces a minimum of 27 years in jail.

The group of men accused in the USS Nicholas attack on 1 April face a stiffer punishment if convicted of piracy, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Yet the charge may be difficult to prove for prosecutors, in part because the suspected pirates never actually boarded the vessel.

One of the last piracy trials in the US was in 1861, when 13 Southern privateers aboard the Savannah were prosecuted in New York. The jury deadlocked and the men were reclassified as prisoners of war. The men were eventually exchanged with the Confederacy.

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