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Judge gives Somali pirate 12 life sentences

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 | 8:56 AM    

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Virginia, USA  (AP) — A federal judge ordered a Somali pirate yesterday to serve a dozen life sentences in prison for his role in the hijacking of a German merchant vessel and a US yacht, saying the hostage negotiator was lucky he wasn't facing the death penalty.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin is considered by US authorities to be the highest-ranking pirate they have ever captured. Shibin had direct ties to those who finance pirate operations from ashore in largely lawless Somalia.

Four Americans aboard the Quest were shot to death by pirates off the coast of Africa in 2011, and the crew on the other vessel was tortured to get a higher ransom in 2010.

US District Judge Robert Doumar told Shibin he was "very lucky" he wasn't facing a death sentence, although no death penalty-eligible charges were brought against him.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the three men charged with shooting the Americans. Eleven other men in the case who boarded the Quest have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to life in prison.

Shibin, who speaks several languages including English, declined to make any statements before he was sentenced.

US authorities are hoping the sentence will send a message to pirates to stay away from American-flagged ships.

"I think this case explodes the myth, if still it exists out there, that pirates are some kind of romantic swashbuckling characters from Hollywood summer movies. This case showed that pirates are brutal, greedy, reckless, desperate criminals who will kidnap, torture and ultimately kill hostages in pursuit of their financial greed," US Attorney Neil MacBride said after sentencing.

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