Somali pirates sentenced in Va. to life in prison

/ Source: The Associated Press

Five Somali men convicted of piracy for attacking a U.S. Navy ship off Africa's coast were sentenced to life in prison on Monday, although several of them said through an interpreter they wanted to appeal.

The men were also sentenced to serve an additional 80 years in prison on other charges related to the attack on the USS Nicholas.

Defense lawyers had argued the men were innocent fishermen who had been abducted by pirates and forced to fire weapons at the ship.

But federal prosecutors argued during trial that the five had confessed to attacking the ship on April 1 after mistaking it for a merchant ship. The Nicholas, based in Norfolk, was part of an international flotilla fighting piracy in the seas off Somalia.

The government said three of the men were in a skiff that opened fire on the Nicholas with assault rifles, then fled when sailors returned fire with machine guns. The other two men were found on a mother ship with weapons.

One of them, Abdi Mohammed Umar, said he didn't understand why he was being sentenced to prison.

"I did not kill anybody. I did not rob anybody. I didn't attack anybody," he said through an interpreter. "I'd like to be told the reason I am found guilty in this case."

U.S. District Judge Mark Davis reminded Umar that a jury had heard the evidence and found him guilty of multiple charges.

The government is prosecuting a separate group of Somali defendants for an alleged April 10 attack on the USS Ashland, also off Africa. A judge in Norfolk dismissed the piracy charge, but the government is appealing. Oral arguments in that appeal are scheduled for March 25.

Davis said he would request that the five men be sent to a prison that already houses other Somalis.