NORFOLK, Va. -- A federal judge sentenced two more Somali pirates to life in prison without parole for their roles in the shooting deaths of four Americans aboard their yacht off the coast of Africa.
Chief District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith sentenced 33-year-old Abukar Osman Beyle and 31-year-old Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar to serve 21 life sentences in all, 19 of them consecutively, during hearings on Wednesday and Thursday. They each received the same term as Ahmed Muse Salad, 27, who was sentenced on Tuesday. Prosecutors had originally sought the death penalty, but a jury didn't agree to that sentence.
"The multiple, consecutive life sentences imposed today send a clear message that piracy, hostage-taking, and murder on the high seas will not be tolerated," acting U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente said in a statement.
The three men were among 19 who boarded the 58-foot yacht in hopes of taking the Americans back to Somalia so they could be ransomed for millions of dollars. The plan fell apart when the U.S. Navy began shadowing the boat. Sailors had told the pirates they could keep the yacht and a small Navy boat in exchange for the hostages, but the pirates refused to take the deal because they didn't believe they would get enough money. Furthermore, the only person authorized to negotiate the Americans' release was based on land in Somalia.
With the yacht nearing the Somali coastline, the destroyer USS Sterett began maneuvering between the Quest and the Somali shore when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at it. Soon after, dozens of gunshots were fired on board the Quest. By the time U.S. Navy SEALs scrambled on board, the Americans had been mortally wounded. Four pirates had also died in the exchange.
The yacht's owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and their friends, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first Americans to be killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in recent years.
Prosecutors said the three men who were sentenced this week were among a group of more aggressive pirates who favored killing the Americans rather than surrendering to the Navy. Prosecutors say the men repeatedly fired AK-47s at the Americans, who were shot 41 times.
In addition to the murder charges, the men were also convicted of kidnapping, hostage taking and piracy, among other things.
Eleven other men who boarded the yacht have already been sentenced to life in prison, although those sentences may eventually be reduced for cooperating with prosecutors. One person was released by U.S. authorities following the shootings because he was juvenile.