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Feds seek death penalty in Somali yacht hijacking

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against three Somalis charged with murder in the fatal shooting of four Americans aboard a hijacked yacht last year, according to a court document unsealed Tuesday.

Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar could also face the death penalty on numerous other charges related to the February, 2011 hijacking. They include hostage taking resulting in death, violence against maritime navigation resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death. In total, 22 of the 26 counts the defendants are charged with are death-eligible offenses.

The decision to seek the death penalty is made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Prosecutors were required to tell the court if they planned to seek the death penalty before the Somalis’ trial started. A status hearing to set a trial date is scheduled for May 22. Each of the men have pleaded not guilty.

The court filing outlines the reasons behind the decision to seek the death penalty. Among them, prosecutors say the men killed or attempted to kill more than one person during a single episode. It also says their actions endangered the U.S. military and the Americans were killed “in an especially wanton and gratuitous manner.”

In the case of Salad, the filing says he has demonstrated a lack of remorse in the Americans’ deaths and made boastful statements about them.

The owners of the yacht Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first Americans to be killed in a wave of pirate attacks off the coast of east Africa despite an international flotilla of warships that regularly patrol the area.

The Adamses had been sailing full-time on their 58-foot yacht since December 2004 after retiring when their boat was boarded by 19 men several hundred miles south of Oman.

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