Jury selection began today in the case of a Somali man detained for 2 ¬Ω years for his role in the 2008 takeover of a Danish cargo ship. 51 year old Ali Mohamed Ali is charged with piracy and if convicted could face life in prison.¬†
Ali is the alleged ransom negotiator for Somali pirates who seized a vessel in the Gulf of Aden in late 2008. The M/V CEC Future, a Danish ship carrying American cargo was taken over November 7, 2008 by a group of pirates wielding AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades. The vessel owner, Clipper Group, eventually paid 1.7 million in ransom to the pirates for the safe return of the ship, crew, and cargo after the vessel had been held¬†for 71 days.
Ali was detained in 2011 when the US government lured the alleged pirate to the US under the pretense of attending an educational conference in North Carolina. He had been serving as an educational official in Somaliland at the time of his arrest at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington DC.
The prosecution in the case has alleged that Ali boarded the ship two days into the hijacking to serve as a ransom negotiator because of his fluent English. The pirates then compensated Ali for his role in the attack.
The defense claims that the Somali boarded the seized vessel as an observer, but that he was forced to play the part of translator once he was on the ship. Clipper Group CEO, Per Gullestrup, has said he does not believe Ali was affiliated with the pirates and the ship‚Äôs captain, Andrey Nozhkin, has stated that Ali actually served as a buffer between the pirates and the hostages.
Ali‚Äôs 2 ¬Ω years pre-trial detention has stirred up controversy in the legal and constitutional rights communities.
Initially, a¬†Washington Federal District Judge denied Ali‚Äôs motion to be released pending trial citing Ali as a flight risk. In late 2011¬†US District Judge Ellen Hueville was assigned Ali‚Äôs case and overturned the decision to hold the Somali. The US government reversed Hueville‚Äôs decision to release the Somali twice, most recently in September of this year. Hueville has stated that his right to due process was being violated by such a lengthy pre-trial detention period. She also added that Ali had endured harsh¬†conditions during his detainment including spending 10 days in solitary confinement for an allegation that was later proven false.
The US government, however, has remained firm on its position against Ali.¬†In a 2011 Department of Justice press release U.S. Attorney Machen is quoted as saying, ‚ÄúThis case shows our resolve to prosecute pirates and those who profit from crimes on the high seas. Those who negotiate and collect these ransoms are every bit as responsible for these crimes as the pirates who commandeer the ships.‚Äù
Another pirate implicated in the hijacking, Jama Idle Ibrahim, is already serving out his 25 years for role in the attack and an additional 30 years for an attack on a US navy vessel also in the Gulf of Aden.