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Somalis convicted of piracy in first such U.S. jury verdict since 1820

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Somalis convicted of piracy
  • NEW: All five defendants face life in prison
  • The jury verdict is the first in a U.S. court since 1820, prosecutors say
  • The Somalis were captured after attacking the frigate USS Nicholas

(CNN) -- Five Somali men face life in prison after a federal jury in Virginia convicted them of piracy Wednesday, the first such verdict in a U.S. court in nearly two centuries.

Mohammed Modin Hasan, Gabul Abdullahi Ali, Abdi Wali Dire, Abdi Mohammed Gurewardher and Abdi Mohammed Umar were captured after an April 1 attack on the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas in the Indian Ocean. All five face mandatory life sentences after being convicted of piracy and several related charges, said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Norfolk, Virginia.

Though two other men captured in pirate attacks have pleaded guilty to related crimes in recent months, Wednesday's verdicts marked the first jury convictions on piracy charges since 1820, Carr said. The verdict came on the second day of deliberations in Norfolk, the frigate's home port.

Sentencing is set for March 14, Carr said.

  • Somalia
  • Pirates

According to the indictment, the Somalis had mistaken the 450-foot U.S. warship for a merchant vessel in the middle of the night. The Nicholas responded by sinking the skiff that carried out the attack and capturing the pirate mother ship that launched it.

The Nicholas was passing between the Somali coast and the Seychelles when it was attacked. Pirate attacks have become a frequent hazard for sailors off Somalia, which has had no effective central government since 1991.

Despite a crackdown by an international naval flotilla in the region, pirates managed to seize 35 ships between January and September, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors attacks.