NORFOLK, VA. — A Somali pirate was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole for his role in the shooting deaths of four Americans aboard their yacht off the coast of Africa.
Chief District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ordered Ahmed Muse Salad to serve 21 life sentences in all, 19 of them consecutively, saying the hefty sentence would serve as a deterrent to other pirates. Prosecutors had originally sought the death penalty, but a federal jury refused that sentence.
Salad was one of three Somalis convicted of kidnapping, hostage taking and murder in the killing of the Americans aboard their 58-foot yacht, among other things.
Salad and the others were among 19 who boarded the yacht in hopes of taking the Americans back to Somalia so they could be ransomed for millions of dollars. The plan fell apart when the U.S. Navy began shadowing the boat. Sailors had told the pirates they could keep the yacht and a small Navy boat in exchange for the hostages, but the pirates refused to take the deal because they didn’t believe they would get enough money. Furthermore, the only person authorized to negotiate the Americans’ release was based on land in Somalia.
With the yacht nearing the Somali coastline, the destroyer USS Sterett began maneuvering between the Quest and the Somali shore when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at it. Soon after, gunshots were fired on board the Quest.
The yacht’s owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and their friends, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were the first Americans killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in recent years.
Prosecutors said Salad was among a group of more aggressive pirates aboard the yacht and repeatedly fired his AK-47 at the Americans, returning to fire more shots after the initial volley of fire had ended.
The judge noted that the 11 other men in the case who didn’t fire at the Americans had already been sentenced to life in prison and that Salad’s sentence needed to be different because he was more responsible for the deaths. Four other pirates aboard the yacht had been killed during the episode, and one person was released by U.S. authorities because he was a juvenile. Beach Smith described the Americans’ deaths — all were repeatedly shot at close range by AK-47s — as particularly heinous.
“It’s hard to forget Jean Adam’s face being shot off to the point she’s unrecognizable,” she said to Salad.
Prosecutors said Salad bragged about killing the Americans even after his capture. Later, he told the FBI that he was asleep when the Americans were shot, according to court records.
“The defendant has never expressed even a modicum of remorse — going to the opposite end of the spectrum to not only brag about what he’d done, but to plan a defense that blamed the deceased pirates for a role that he willingly played,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing seeking consecutive life sentences. “In so doing, the defendant, claiming to have shot the pirates who killed the Americans, sought to portray himself in some sort of heroic light and shield his barbaric acts.”
In a brief statement before his sentence was handed down, Salad said through an interpreter that he was “very sorry” for the Americans’ deaths.
The other two convicted of murder in the case are scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday and Thursday.