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NORFOLK, Va. — Five Somali men have been charged with piracy again after a federal appeals court ruled that an armed attack on a U.S. vessel can be considered piracy even if no one ever boards or robs the ship.
The men originally had the piracy charges dismissed by a federal judge because they never boarded or robbed the Ashland, a Virginia-based amphibious dock landing ship.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment with the new charges Wednesday, a little more than two months after the appeals court made its ruling.
The men previously pleaded innocent, arguing they were ferrying refugees when they came upon the ship in the Gulf of Aden in April, 2010.
The indictment says the men set out to sea to hijack a ship and hold its crew for ransom, firing shots from an AK-47 at what turned out to be the Ashland. During the attack, the Navy ship's 25mm cannons destroyed a skiff, killing one Somali man and injuring several others. One of the crew members aboard the Somali boat, Jama Idle Ibrahim, has already pleaded guilty to related charges and could be asked to testify against his five countrymen. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says the new indictment adds allegations that three of the defendants also went to sea to capture another vessel but were intercepted by the Royal Navy.
If convicted of the piracy charges, they face a mandatory life sentence.
Among other charges, the men also face conspiracy to commit kidnapping and conspiracy to commit hostage taking charges. Each carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.