NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Nine Somali men accused of attacking two U.S. Navy ships off thecoast of Africa pleaded not guilty Friday to piracy, plundering andweapons charges.
U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Bradford Stillman ordered the nine helduntil their trials, tentatively scheduled for July 6th. Of 11Somali men indicted last week on U.S. charges, one entered a notguilty plea Wednesday and another is scheduled to be arraigned nextweek.
The nine men arraigned Friday were scheduled to enter pleas onWednesday but attorneys representing them said they needed moretime to explain the government's accusations with an interpreterpresent. Some said they had spent only 30 minutes with their clientand were not confident they understood U.S. court procedures.
None of the defendants speak English. All face mandatory lifeterms, if convicted.
Attorneys said they not only faced a language barrier, but thecultural shock the men faced after they were detained by the Navyand taken to the U.S.
"My client doesn't read or speak any language, much lessEnglish," William J. Holmes, who represents Gabul Abdullahi Ali."It's like being picked up and being taken to another planet."
Questioned by Stillman, the defendents listed their ages as 18to 32 and all but one said they had no education at all.
"I have never even seen a school," Abdi Wali Dire told Stillmanthrough an interpreter when he asked how he would plead.
Each man is charged with piracy, attacks to plunder a vessel,assault with a dangerous weapon, and other weapons counts. Piracycarries a mandatory life sentence, while the other charges carrypenalties of 10 to 35 years.
Five of the men were captured March 31, after the frigate USSNicholas exchanged fire with a suspected pirate vessel west of theSeychelles.
The other six were captured after they allegedly began shootingat the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland on April 10 about380 miles off Djibouti, a small nation facing Yemen across themouth of the Red Sea. Two of the accused have visible physicalinjuries, the result of the exchange with the Navy, according tothe government.
The government has said the defendants mistakenly went after theNicholas believing it was a merchant ship. A prosecutor said thegovernment had eyewitnesses -- sailors -- and forensic evidencelinking the suspects to the crime.
The Ashland and Nicholas, both based within 20 miles of thecourthouse, were part of an international flotilla protectingshipping in the region.
The 11 had been held on U.S. ships for weeks off Somalia'spirate-infested coast as officials decided whether and where theycould be prosecuted.
The Somali mission to the United Nations said the suspectsshould be tried by a regional or international tribunal, not in aU.S. courtroom.
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