Spanish Judge Indicts 2 Suspected Somali Pirates

A judge indicted two suspected Somali pirates captured in connection with the hijacking of a Spanish tuna trawler, moving Monday for swift resolution of a case that is prolonging the six-week hostage crisis.

Fellow pirates are holding the Alakrana and its crew of 36 just off the coast of Somalia. Besides a ransom, the hijackers are demanding the release of the two colleagues in custody in Madrid as a condition for freeing the vessel and the sailors. They were captured Oct. 2 in open waters of the Indian Ocean.

Judge Santiago Pedraz issued the indictment in response to an urgent request Saturday from prosecutors that he decide quickly whether to file charges, so as to speed up the case.

The idea is to resolve the status of the two in custody so the government can either expel them under immigration laws if they are convicted, or possibly have them serve their sentence in Somalia.

The two men in custody — identified in the indictment as Cabdeweli Cabdullahi and Raageggesey Hassan Haji — were captured a day after the hijacking by Spanish naval forces as the men left the trawler in a skiff and headed ashore to Somalia.

The charges against them are kidnapping, armed robbery and use of weapons. The men originally faced preliminary charges of criminal association, as well.

In the end, however, Pedraz has dropped that charge, and this might speed things up. Under Spanish immigration law, a foreigner who is charged with or convicted of a crime and sentenced to six years or less, can be expelled from Spain. But the crime of criminal association is excluded from that clause.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez's government has been fending off fierce criticism that it erred in bringing to Madrid the two pirates caught the day after the hijacking.

Relatives of the sailors still held hostage on the Alakrana have said the government should have known this would delay the crisis by causing the pirates still in control of the ship to demand their release.

The government insists it had no choice but to arrest two people who had apparently just committed a crime against Spanish citizens and property. Sixteen of the crew members are Spanish and the vessels is registered in Spain.