WASHINGTON – A Somali man pleaded guilty Friday to piracy-related charges for attacking a U.S. Navy ship in what the defendant said was a case of mistaken identity. Jama Idle Ibrahim told authorities he intended to attack a merchant vessel to hold it for ransom and discovered that he was attacking a Navy ship instead.
Ibrahim entered the plea in federal court in Norfolk, Va.
"Today marks the first conviction in Norfolk for acts of piracy in more than 150 years," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement. "Modern-day pirates must be held accountable."
Ibrahim and five other Somalis chased a ship they believed was a merchant vessel and started firing at the ship and the people on board before they were captured, according to court papers in the case.
The piracy-related acts to which Ibrahim pleaded guilty were attacking to plunder a vessel, engaging in an act of violence against people on a vessel and using a firearm during a crime of violence, all in connection with an attack against the USS Ashland on April 10.
Earlier this month, a judge dismissed piracy charges against the six Somalis. A conviction on the charge of piracy itself carries a mandatory life term.
The piracy-related charges carry a range of sentences from 10 years to life in prison.
The plea agreement said both parties agreed a sentence of 30 years in prison is appropriate. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 29.
Separately, Ibrahim was charged Friday in Washington, D.C., with an alleged act of piracy in the Gulf of Aden against a merchant vessel, the M/V CEC Future. In a document called a criminal information, Ibrahim was accused of conspiracy to commit piracy under the law of nations and conspiracy to use a firearm during a crime of violence.
A criminal information can only be filed with the defendant's consent to waive consideration of his case by a grand jury; it typically signals that a person is preparing to enter a plea of guilty in a deal with prosecutors.