A Somali man was convicted of piracy Friday for his role as a hostage negotiator in the hijacking of a German merchant vessel and U.S. yacht. The four Americans aboard the yacht were shot to death by pirates, and the crew on the other vessel was tortured to get a higher ransom.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin was convicted of the 15 charges he faced, including kidnapping, hostage-taking and weapons charges. He faces a mandatory life sentence.
"Today's verdict marks the conviction of the highest-ranking Somali pirate ever brought to the United States," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said.
Prosecutors said Shibin received at least $30,000 for his role as a hostage negotiator aboard the Marida Marguerite, the German vessel that was ransomed for $5 million in 2010 after nearly two dozen mostly Indian crew members were held captive for about eight months.
No payment was ever made for the U.S. yacht Quest after it was hijacked in 2011. Shibin's role was to serve as the negotiator once the Americans were brought back to Somalia. But the plan fell through when the U.S. Navy started shadowing the yacht. The Navy agreed to let the pirates keep the sailboat but said it wouldn't let them return to Somalia with the Americans.
The pirates gave the Navy Shibin's phone number because they said he was the only one authorized to negotiate.
Within days of boarding the yacht, a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the USS Sterett when it tried to maneuver between the Quest and the Somali coast. The Americans were then shot before Navy SEALs could get on board.
The yacht owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean despite a regular patrol of international warships.