Fourth Circuit Affirms Convictions of Somali Pirates Who Attacked USS Nicholas
Circuit Vacates Pre-Trial Decision in Separate Case Involving Alleged Pirate Attack on USS Ashland
NORFOLK, Va. – Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, announced that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has unanimously affirmed the convictions and life sentences of five men from Somalia for piracy in their attack on USS Nicholas. In addition, the Fourth Circuit also vacated the pre-trial ruling involving the alleged separate attack on the USS Ashland by five other men from Somalia. That case has been remanded back to the District Court for further proceedings.
“Today, the Fourth Circuit made clear that anyone who attempts an armed hijacking of another vessel on the high seas is a pirate under U.S. law,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “Since the earliest days of this country, piracy has been a serious crime. That is why Congress in 1819 chose a definition of piracy that would reflect advancements in the law of nations. For decades, the international community has considered violent attacks on the high seas as an act of piracy, and today’s ruling will strengthen our ability to hold those who attack U.S. vessels by force accountable, regardless of whether they are successful or not.”
On Nov. 24, 2010, a federal jury in Norfolk, Va., convicted the five men – Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher, and Abdi Mohammed Umar, all from Somalia – of piracy, attack to plunder a vessel, act of violence against persons on a vessel, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with a dangerous weapon on federal officers and employees, conspiracy to use firearms during a crime of violence, and multiple firearm counts, including the use of a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). They have since been sentenced to life in prison followed by a consecutive 80 years in prison.
According to evidence and trial testimony, the five men left Somalia in search of a merchant ship to pirate. They used a larger ship full of supplies, along with two smaller vessels loaded with assault weapons and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that served as attack boats. On April 1, 2010, Hasan, Ali, and Dire boarded one of these smaller vessels and set out to pirate what they believed to be a merchant ship, while Gurewardher and Umar remained onboard the large ship to maintain that ship during the attack. Ali and Dire each carried an assault weapon, and Hasan carried an RPG. They opened fire on a ship, which they later discovered was the USS Nicholas, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate homeported in Norfolk, Va.
On April 21, 2010, six men – Maxamad Cali Saciid, Mohammed Abdi Jama, Jaamac Ciidle, Abdicasiis Cabaase, Abdirasaq Abshir and Mahamed Farraah Hassan – were charged with piracy-related offenses involving the U.S.S. Ashland on or about April 10, 2010. As alleged in court documents, in and around April 10, 2010, the Somalis sailed on the high seas in the Gulf of Aden searching for a merchant ship to attack and seize, intending to plunder the vessel and hold the crew and contents for ransom. The six men sighted a ship they believed to be a merchant vessel – but which was in fact the USS Ashland, a United States Navy vessel – chased it, and, once they were alongside the vessel, began firing at the USS Ashland and the people on board. The USS Ashland is a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship homeported in Little Creek, Va.Ciidle, aka Jama Idle Ibrahim, pled guilty on Aug. 6, 2010, to attacking to plunder a vessel, engaging in an act of violence against persons on a vessel and to using a firearm during a crime of violence. He was sentenced on Nov. 29, 2010, to 30 years in prison.