WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two more Somalis pleaded guilty in U.S. court on Tuesday for pirating a yacht that led to the murder of two American couples and face mandatory sentences of life in prison.
Said Abdi Fooley, 24, and Abdi Jama Aqid, 28, admitted that they took part in the pirating of the yacht off the Somalia coast in February and in the taking of the four Americans on board as hostages.
The two men said they did not personally shoot any of the Americans and did not instruct any of the other pirates to shoot the hostages. The judge set their sentencing on September 9.
The latest guilty pleas in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, brought to seven the number of defendants who have admitted their roles in pirating the yacht. A total of 15 men are in U.S. custody and have been charged in the incident.
The four slain Americans were Jean and Scott Adam of California and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle from Seattle.
“Fooley and Aqid put four Americans’ lives in danger to get tens of thousands of dollars in ransom money,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said. “Tragically, their hostages were executed before they could be rescued.”
According to U.S. court documents, Somali pirates killed the four Americans on their yacht after the U.S. military warned the pirates it would block their course to land.
A group of pirates seized the yacht on February 18, and one was aboard the U.S. warship negotiating a possible deal to release the couples when shooting broke out, prompting the U.S. military to send American special forces to the boat.
Fooley admitted that he became a pirate in the hope of hijacking a boat to make money and that he carried a semi-automatic assault rifle abroad the yacht, the S/V Quest.
Aqid, who said his job was to spot the ships, admitted that he knew the group of pirates planed to capture a boat, take it to the beach and get a ransom of as much as $80,000.
Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have hijacked vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships, including oil tankers, and hostages.