In a first for U.S. anti-piracy efforts, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents ventured into Somalia to arrest the man who allegedly oversaw ransom negotiations for four Americans held hostage and later killed by pirates.
Mohammad Shibin, 50 years old, was captured in a joint operation, led by the FBI and coordinated with Somali authorities.
U.S. agents had never before apprehended an alleged pirate on land, though it has prosecuted a number of Somali pirates caught attacking U.S. ships in the Arabian Sea. To date, counter-piracy efforts had been waged almost exclusively in millions of square miles of ocean off the Horn of Africa.
Andrew Shapiro, the State Department's point man on piracy, said last month the U.S. was preparing a "more energetic and comprehensive" approach to piracy, with a special focus on "pirate leaders and financiers" onshore.
Mr. Shibin was captured in early April and brought to the U.S. last week. He had been indicted in early March and charged with three counts, including piracy and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, charges which could carry a life sentence if he is found guilty. Mr. Shibin appeared Wednesday for the first time in U.S. district court in Norfolk, Va., where the indictment was unsealed.
"The arrest of Mohammad Shibin is a significant breakthrough in the United States' battle against Somali pirates," said Neil MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia."We hope this indictment will strike at the heart of the piracy business and send a strong message to all pirates, whether they board the ships or remain on shore in Somalia."
On Feb. 18, four U.S. sailors crossing the Arabian Sea on their 58-foot yacht, the Quest, were hijacked by more than a dozen Somali pirates. According to the indictment, while the American sailors were kept below deck by their captors, Mr. Shabin, on shore in Somalia, researched them over the Internet "to determine the amount of ransom to demand."
The next day, just before a U.S. Navy SEAL assault team boarded the Quest, the American sailors—Scott and Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle—were shot and killed by the pirates. The deadly episode was a turning point in piracy in the region; killings had been very rare, since crews and ships can bring millions of dollars in ransoms.
Mr. Shibin told FBI agents after his arrest that he had also been lead ransom negotiator after last May's taking of the chemical tanker M/V Marida Marguerite, according to court documents. That tanker was released seven months later, earning Mr. Shabin $30,000 for his negotiating role, according to court documents.
The FBI operation inside Somalia was possible because of a pair of U.N. Security Council resolutions in 2008 that authorized nations to take "all necessary and appropriate measures" to combat piracy in Somalia.
Mr. Shibin's capture came shortly after Mr. Shapiro, assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, sketched out the Obama administration's revised plan to counter piracy in the region by taking steps to make the high-reward, low-risk business more risky for pirates.
"Most importantly we must focus on pirate leaders and financiers to deny them the means to benefit from ransom proceeds," he said in a speech in late March. wsj