NORFOLK, Va. – Three suspected Somali pirates were charged with murder Friday in the slayings of four Americans aboard a hijacked yacht off the coast of Africa in February.
Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar could face the death penalty if they are convicted.
They are among 14 men who were charged with piracy, kidnapping and weapons violations in the hijacking of the yacht Quest. Eleven of those men have already pleaded guilty to piracy for their roles in the case, although prosecutors have said none of those men shot at the Americans. As part of a plea deal, the pirates agreed to cooperate with authorities in this case and possibly others in exchange for the possibility of having their mandatory life sentences reduced.
The murder charges were among several new charges handed down by a grand jury that carry the possibility of the death penalty. They include hostage taking resulting in death, violence against maritime navigation resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death.
"The charges announced in today's superseding indictment send a strong message to those who seek to harm Americans on the high seas: you will be subject to American justice," FBI Assistant Director in Charge Janice Fedarcyk said in a statement. "Modern-day pirates remain a very real danger; the FBI joins our international law enforcement partners in our mutual goal of maintaining the rule of law on the high seas."
The owners of the Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot to death several days after being taken hostage several hundred miles south of Oman.
They were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in recent years, despite an international flotilla of warships that patrol the area. Others charged in the case have said they boarded the yacht while it sat still in the water and the Americans were sleeping.
Four U.S. warships began shadowing the Quest after it was hijacked. Court records say Abrar, 29, fired a shot above Scott Adam's head and told him to tell the Navy that if they came any closer that the Americans would be killed. Soon after, a rocket propelled grenade was fired at the USS Sterett, where two convicted pirates were on board conducting the negotiations.
The Navy had told the pirates that they could keep the yacht in exchange for the hostages, but they refused to take the deal because they didn't believe they would get enough money. Ransoms are typically made for millions of dollars.
A 15th man also faces piracy charges for serving as the pirates' land-based negotiator and is considered the highest-ranking pirate the U.S. has ever captured.
In all, 19 men boarded the American boat. Four of them died on board. One person was released by authorities because he is a juvenile.