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Somali pirate suspects indicted in Spain

By Al Goodman
CNN
Families and friends of the crew of the Alakrana demonstrate for their release recently in the Basque town of Bermeo.
Families and friends of the crew of the Alakrana demonstrate for their release recently in the Basque town of Bermeo.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two Somalis were seized by Spanish military a day after pirates captured a Spanish fishing boat last month
  • Judge indicted the two on 36 counts of kidnapping --- one for each of the 36 crew members being held
  • Ship's owner and relatives of crew pleaded with the Spanish government to return the two suspects to Somalia
RELATED TOPICS
  • Somalia
  • Pirates

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge indicted two Somali pirate suspects in Madrid on Monday, while pirates held a Spanish fishing boat and its crew off the Somali coast for the 46th day.

The judge indicted the two on 36 counts of kidnapping -- one for each of the 36 crew members being held, and armed robbery. He ordered the two to appear at a hearing Tuesday, according to a court order.

Pirates seized the Spanish fishing boat, the Alakrana, last month. A day later, Spanish military monitoring the situation captured two pirate suspects as they left the fishing boat, and later brought them to Madrid.

The ship's owner, Echebastar Fleet, and relatives of the crew members have pleaded with the court and the Spanish government to return the two suspects to Somalia, as pirate representatives have demanded in conversations with Spanish media.

In a document Saturday, the state prosecutor asked Judge Santiago Pedraz to quickly issue the indictment and conclude the judicial investigation to move the case toward a possible trial.

The trial could be held within a few weeks, a spokesman for the state prosecutor's office told CNN.

The two suspects, identified as Cabdullahi Cabduwily and Rageggesey Hassan Aji, could face sentences of more than 200 years in prison each.

But the state prosecutor did not seek a charge of illicit association -- belonging to an organized criminal enterprise -- and that could open the door to a lighter sentence and possible expulsion under Spain's law on foreigners, added the spokesman, who by custom is not identified.

Spanish officials have said publicly that the crew --- 16 from Spain and 20 from Africa and Asia --- are well. Three crew members were removed from the ship, causing additional concern for relatives, but were later returned on board by pirates.

It is thought to be the first time suspected Somali pirates have appeared before a Spanish judge and been indicted.

Spanish media have reported that various other European countries have sent Somali pirate suspects -- which their respective armed forces captured -- to Kenya to face judicial proceedings, but did not bring them to Europe.

Pirates have captured more than 50 ships this year off Somalia and are currently holding 12, including the Alakrana, Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon said recently.

About a dozen other Spanish fishing boats had taken refuge in the Seychelles Islands but over the weekend, dozens of private Spanish security personnel arrived there and boarded the ships, with their weapons, to provide security, as other nations are doing for their fishing fleets in the troubled waters.

Spain is part of a European Union task force against piracy in the Indian Ocean off Somalia. The Spanish parliament last January agreed to increase Spain's presence with up to 395 troops and assets, including a frigate and aircraft.

Chacon told Parliament before the vote that the fight against piracy "is of vital importance for the defense of the geostrategic and economic interests of Spain, and will provide security to our fishing fleet."