Pirate Negotiator Arrested

US officials have seized an individual believed to be a Somali pirate who was the chief negotiator in a yacht hijacking last February in which four American citizens were killed.

The arrest of Mohammad Saaili Shibin is the first time that an alleged pirate has been seized on-shore in Somalia. Believed to be tied to the deadliest piracy incidents in recent years, he was transferred to the United States at the beginning of April and indicted by a federal grand jury.

According to the Wall Street Journal, US Forces, assisted by the Somali army, apprehended the alleged pirate on land. This represents the first time that US Forces have operated in Somalia for several years and the first time that a similar onshore operation has been carried out by US Forces.

US Attorney Neil MacBride said “The arrest of Mohammad Shibin is a significant breakthrough in the United States’ battle against Somali pirates”, adding that “Today marks the first time that the US government has captured and charged an alleged pirate in a leadership role – a hostage negotiator who operated in Somalia.”

MacBride further stated that “We hope that this indictment will strike at the heart of the piracy business and send a strong message to all pirates that they are not beyond the reach of the FBI, whether they board the ships or remain on-shore in Somalia.”

Shibin has been charged in US federal court in Norfolk, Virginia for pirating an American owned yacht and for taking four US citizens hostage. Jean and Scott Adam of California and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle from Seattle were sailing their yacht, ‘The Quest’, off the coast of Oman when the pirates attacked the vessel. All four of the hostages later died during a rescue attempt.

Shibin allegedly used the Internet to research who the hostages were in order to try to determine how much ransom to demand as well as trying to identify family members to contact. US Department of Justice officials have stated that Mohammad Saaili Shibin was identified by co-conspirators as the person responsible for negotiating the ransom.

The Department of Justice indicted a number of suspected pirates on charges related to the same hijacking and in March, a total of thirteen Somalis and one Yemeni were transferred to Norfolk to face charges of piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and the use of firearms.

In the incident, the pirates who seized the yacht were negotiating with US military when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett. Gunfire then broke out inside the pirated vessel. US Special Forces were sent to board the ship and, according to the US Military, the pirates shot the hostages before US Special Forces were able to board the yacht.

Two pirates were killed during the boarding and a further two were found dead onboard, the US Military has stated that the pirates found dead on the vessel were not killed by special forces.

U.S. Navy photograph of Special Forces by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert Guerra

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Author: Oliver Ward
Date: 15 April 2011
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