NORFOLK, Va. – Eight men charged with piracy in the hijacking of a yacht that left four Americans dead will enter plea agreements, according to court documents.
The men are among 15 people from Somalia and Yemen who had previously pleaded not guilty to piracy, kidnapping and firearms charges in the February hijacking of the yacht Quest in the Gulf of Aden.
Prosecutors contend the men boarded the boat in an effort to hold its passengers for ransom.
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 they were taken hostage several hundred miles south of Oman.
The U.S. Navy was using unmanned airplanes and four warships to track the captured yacht and negotiations were under way when the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade, authorities say.
Special forces boarded the vessel and found the Americans had been shot, according to the military. Pirates have blamed the deaths of the American hostages on the Navy, saying the pirates felt under attack.
It was the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in the pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in recent years. The pirates are typically motivated by the potential for millions of dollars in ransom money.
The Adamses, who were retired, had been sailing full-time on their 58-foot yacht and delivering Bibles around the world.
An indictment accuses at least three of the 15 men of shooting and killing the four Americans without provocation, although it doesn't specify who pulled the trigger.
David Bouchard, attorney for accused pirate Mohamud Salad Ali, said his client would plead guilty to the piracy charge and a new charge of hostage taking in exchange for the weapons and kidnapping charges being dropped. Bouchard said his agreement will also ensure Ali doesn't face the death penalty, although he faces a mandatory life sentence. The documents filed in U.S. federal court in Virginia did not say what charges the other men would plead guilty to.
Bouchard said Ali was on a Navy ship at the time of the shootings.
"My guy doesn't know who pulled the trigger," Bouchard said. "He was trying to resolve the problem."
Ali is one of three men whose hearings are scheduled for Friday. A second man, Mohamud Hirs Issa, also faces a new hostage taking charge. The other five men will have their hearings next week.
The group making plea agreements does not include Mohammad Saaili Shibin, who the U.S. says is the highest-ranking pirate it has ever captured. Prosecutors say Shibin never boarded the yacht and operated from Somalia as the pirates' chief negotiator. Court documents say Shibin has also acknowledged acting as a negotiator for a German vessel, the M/V Marida Marguerite, which was taken hostage by pirates in May and released in December, receiving $30,000 for his services.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis
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