Prosecutors: Somalis tortured German ship hostages

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - November 16, 2011

The revelation appears in a filing by the government explaining why it believes piracy charges against Mohammad Saaili Shibin should not be dismissed. Prosecutors say Shibin is the highest-ranking pirate the U.S. has ever captured and that he acted as a land-based negotiator who also researched victims' online to determine their worth and secure hefty ransoms. Shibin's attorney contends the piracy charge should be dismissed because he didn't commit robbery at sea.

Shibin has been charged with a litany of crimes, including hostage taking, for his roles in the May 2010 hijacking of the Marida Marguerite as well as the February hijacking of the yacht Quest, where all four Americans on board were killed.

In a filing Tuesday, prosecutors said the piracy charge should stick because the robbery of the Marida Marguerite continued after it was taken to Somalia, where the ship and its mostly Indian crew were held until January. A piracy conviction carries a mandatory life sentence in the U.S.

"Indeed, the pirates' desire to locate all the fuel onboard the ship to appropriate for their own purposes was so great that they resorted to torturing the crew members of the Marida Marguerite in order to extract information regarding fuel and water reserves, as well as communication capabilities," prosecutors wrote.

The filing goes on to say that the torture was used by Shibin and others to attempt to extract a higher ransom payment from the ship's owners. A message left with Shibin attorney James Broccoletti's office Wednesday was not immediately returned.

The document does not specify how the crew members are alleged to have been tortured, but says it occurred "at the point of many guns, held by many armed men."

It is unclear whether Shibin was present for the alleged torture. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to elaborate beyond the court filings on Wednesday. Other court documents say Shibin - a multilingual former oil worker - was on board the German ship for much of the negotiations he conducted.

Prosecutors say Shibin earned between $30,000 and $50,000 for his role securing a ransom for the ship's release, which was estimated to be in the millions. Prosecutors said the transaction was completed when ransom money was dropped from a plane into the sea.

"Without Shibin's involvement, the pirates could not have negotiated the ransom with the ship owners," prosecutors wrote.

"The facilitation prong of the piracy definition is not tied to the high seas, and thus Shibin's involvement, even if limited to Somalia and its territorial seas, falls within the High Seas Convention definition of piracy."

Prosecutors also filed documents saying that a federal judge should reject a motion that all other charges against Shibin should be dismissed because the U.S. doesn't have the proper jurisdiction to prosecute Shibin, and that even if it did, Somalia is too dangerous of a country for his attorney to travel to in order to provide an adequate defense.

"Shibin participated in crimes against the international community, and justice for those crimes stops at no national boundary," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors noted that defense attorneys could use a telephone to secure testimony and that many witnesses involved in each case live in other countries, including other Somalis who are currently imprisoned in the U.S. on piracy charges.

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