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Norfolk trial begins for Somalis who fired on Navy ship

February 27, 2013 by Christy

Armed with AK-47s, a group of Somali men in a small skiff opened fire in 2010 on a 609-foot Navy ship off the coast of Africa.

Prosecutors argue the men were pirates who mistook the amphibious dock landing ship for a commercial vessel.

Defense attorneys, however, claim they were merely lost at sea and trying to get the ship’s attention.

A jury trial for five of the

men started Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.

In opening statements Wednesday, prosecutors said the men set out to hijack a ship in the Gulf of Aden and hold its crew for ransom. Under cover of night, they snuck up behind the Ashland thinking it was a commercial vessel, said attorney Benjamin Lucas Hatch.

Before dawn, one of the men pulled out a gun and started firing. “They didn’t mean to attack the U.S. Navy, but that is exactly what they did,” Hatch said.

Defense attorneys acknowledged one of the men on the boat fired a gun but argued they were only trying to get the sailors’ attention. Robert Rigney, one of the Somalis’ court-appointed attorneys, said the men were on their way back from smuggling a group of 80 refugees to Yemen when their ship became disabled.

“It’s not unusual to fire a weapon to signal someone,” Rigney said. It would make no sense for pirates to attack a Navy ship. “These guys in a little skiff are going to take over the USS Ashland?” asked Rigney. “I’m not sure the National Enquirer magazine would buy this script.”

If convicted of the piracy charges, the men face mandatory life sentences.

Read the full article here.

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