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Pirates Plead Guilty in Case of Killed Americans

NORFOLK, Va. -- One of three Somali men who pleaded guilty Friday to taking part in a high-seas attack that left four Americans murdered told a federal judge: "I myself am a victim."

In February, the four Americans were on a yacht in the waters off the Horn of Africa when more than a dozen Somali men and one Yemeni hijacked their vessel. In the midst of negotiations with U.S. officials, at least some of the hijackers opened fire, killing Scott and Jean Adam of California, and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle.

Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali told U.S. District Judge Mark Davis that he is no killer.

"I did not cause the deaths. However, some other people did," Ali said in court Friday, wearing only a bright yellow jumpsuit and flimsy flip-flops. "I kidnapped those people (who) were killed by other people. ... My intention was not (for them) to be killed."

Instead, he told the judge through a translator, "The purpose was to obtain money."

Michael Harkins, an agent with the FBI in New York City, which oversees cases of Somali piracy, said it's "unfortunate that the economic situation right now in Somalia is such that people are getting involved in these kinds of crimes."

"But just because the situation there in Somalia is poor and the economic climate is bad there, (that) obviously doesn't give them the right to go out and commit these violent, criminal acts," he said.

Friday's hearing was punctuated by a comedy of errors and misunderstandings, with even the judge cracking smirks at times.

When the judge noted that those who plead guilty also have to pay $200 in court costs, Ali lamented, "Where can I get the money from?"

The judge explained, "Of course you can only pay the money if you have the money."

When the judge noted that Ali would have to pay "restitution" to his victims, Ali wondered if "that should be imposed (on) those who actually did the act."

"I myself am a victim," he said. The judge explained that all those responsible would have to pay restitution, if they can.

Friday's proceedings -- three separate hearings for each of those pleading guilty to piracy and kidnapping charges -- were further delayed by issues over the men's education.

Another defendant, Mohamud Salad Ali said his defense team had to teach him how to sign his name on legal documents in the case, according to one witness in the courtroom. The entire proceeding was then halted when Salad Ali told the judge his lawyer had not read him the text of his agreement with prosecutors -- a near-requirement in such guilty pleas.

"I don't know how to read, your honor," Salad Ali said through a translator. "But I'm pleading that I was a pirate."

Salad Ali's defense attorney, David Bouchard, implored the judge to continue with the hearing, saying he "interpreted" the documents -- filled with legal terms and American jargon -- for his client, who "totally understands what he's doing."

"I don't know how he would know what a 'criminal information' is," Bouchard said, referring to a charging document often filed before a guilty plea. "But he knows what he did."

The judge suspended the proceedings for two hours, but was expected to ultimately accept guilty pleas from all three of the men. Five others in the case are expected to plead guilty next week.

They face life in prison for the charges of piracy and hostage-taking resulting in death. Those pleading guilty Friday are set to be sentenced in September.

A total of 15 foreign nationals have been charged in the case. Prosecutors said the goal of Friday's guilty pleas was to obtain "substantial" assistance in prosecuting the others, suggesting their focus would be on those who pulled the trigger.

"We're hoping that it's going to bring some level of justice to the families," Harkins, the FBI official, said. "We'll seek justice here for them. That's important to us. ... We want to enforce the rule of law certainly. And doing so we hope to eradicate the piracy that's currently ongoing off the coast of Africa."

Fox News' Tamara Gitt contributed to this report

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