The U.S. State Department has welcomed a U.S. federal court jury verdict sentencing three Somali pirates to life in prison for the 2011 murders of four Americans off the eastern coast of Africa.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki, in a statement Wednesday, said the three defendants will join more than 1,000 other pirates from the region who have been brought to justice in 20 countries in recent years.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty in 22 of 26 charges against Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Abrar. But a jury last week recommended the life terms, which will be formally imposed at a federal district court hearing in Norfolk, Virginia later this year.
During the trial, which ended in July, prosecutors said the defendants were among 19 pirates who in February 2011 boarded a yacht carrying its owners, Jean and Scott Adam, and crew members Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle.
The four were shot to death days later, after negotiations with the U.S. Navy broke down.
Shortly after the killings, defense officials said U.S. naval forces had been shadowing the hijacked yacht, the Quest, and said American commandos rushed the vessel after seeing a burst of gunfire on board. Officials said the U.S. force killed four of the pirates in a brief firefight, but found all four hostages either dead or dying.
Eleven other defendants aboard the hijacked yacht pleaded guilty to piracy in 2011 and are already serving life prison terms. A 12th suspect, a juvenile, was released.