A Somali pirate responsible for the attack on a US Naval vessel, the USS Ashland, in the Gulf of Aden back in February of 2010 has just been sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years by a federal court in Virginia. Five other defendants were sentenced to terms ranging from 15 years to life plus 10 years for the attack.
Mohamed Farah was just one of a group of pirates convicted of crimes including the attempted takeover of the Ashland, as well as conspiracy to take hostages and plundering another vessel. Farah was originally sentenced to 35 years, but the government pushed for life. They received their wish and then some, although Farah still maintains his innocence.
According to what Farah had to say earlier in the year, he is not a pirate, but a people smuggler. He claims he had been attempting to smuggle people from Somalia to Yemen when their ship broke down and they were stranded at sea for seven days without food or water. He believes that one of his crew had fired an AK-47 in an attempt to get help from a vessel he had spotted.
Farah, a non English-speaker communicating through sign-language, stated, “After he shot, we all woke up, and started screaming at each other.” However, this was no regular ship they had attracted and the Ashland returned fire which set his smuggling boat on fire. Farah lost a leg in the encounter when their small skiff exploded. The men were brought to the US and indicted with piracy on the high seas, a charge which carries a life sentence.
Farah may still profess his innocence, but one of his co-defendants co-operated with the government in return for his 15-year sentence and testified that they were indeed looking to loot other vessels. Western countries have been trying to crack down on piracy in recent years, resulting in the decision to bring Farah back to the US for trial.
Attorney Jason Dunn, who was not Farah’s lawyer at the trial, claims that the judge initially refused to issue a life sentence under the opinion that it violated the eighth amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. Dunn believes the life sentence was only given because the judge was bound by mandatory minimum sentencing. Farah will serve his sentence in a Virginia prison.