NORFOLK, Virginia -- A fourth Somali man pleaded guilty on Monday to piracy for his role in the hijacking of a yacht that left four Americans dead, striking a deal with prosecutors that resulted in him identifying which men fired at hostages aboard the boat.
Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf faces a mandatory life sentence, but as part of his plea agreement he could serve less time than that and eventually be deported to Somalia.
He is among 14 people from Somalia and one from Yemen facing charges related to the February hijacking of the yacht Quest.
The owners of the Quest, Jean and Scott Adam, along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay, 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. Prosecutors said the men intended to bring the Americans to Somalia and hold them for ransom there. Pirates typically seek millions of dollars for hostages.
In a statement of facts Yusuf agreed to Monday, Yusuf said the 19 men who had taken control of the yacht would have split 65 percent of the ransom money among themselves and an interpreter. The other 35 percent would be given to a financier.
That plan fell through when U.S. Navy warships began shadowing the Quest.
Yusuf said a man aboard the yacht named Ibrahim was in charge at the time of the shooting. According to Yusuf, Ibrahim told the Navy, "We are not going to stop, you try to stop us if you can." Other court records say it was Ibrahim -- who is among four pirates who died aboard the boat -- who gave the order to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at a Navy ship as a warning shot.
Yusuf said some of the other men on board said they were going to massacre the hostages in order to get the U.S. boats to retreat.
Before the shooting, five men were guarding the Americans with guns pointed at them, including two others who are also dead.
Yusuf identified Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar among the men who survived who fired on the hostages.
When U.S. special forces scrambled onto the occupied vessel, they found the Americans and two of the pirates' bodies. Two other pirates died in the operation.