NORFOLK, Va. -- A former Somali police officer was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for his role as a leader in the hijacking of a yacht that left all four Americans on board dead.
Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali was the commander of a band of 19 pirates that hijacked the 58-foot Quest in February several hundred miles south of Oman. The pirates intended to bring the Americans back to Somalia where a bilingual interpreter would negotiate a ransom payment.
But the owners of the Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot to death several days after being taken hostage.
It was the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in the pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in recent years. The Americans were killed after U.S. warships started shadowing the Quest and negotiations between the Navy and the pirates broke down. At one point, Ali ordered a rocket propelled grenade to be fired at an American ship, althought they don't believe Ali ordered that the hostages be shot. They have charged three other men with murder in the case.
The Navy had agreed to let the pirates take the yacht back to Somalia in exchange for the hostages, but the pirates said they wouldn't get enough money for it. Hostages are typically ransomed for millions of dollars.
"The conspirators' refusal to release the hostages, even when offered the opportunity to proceed to Somalia with the Quest, displayed a callous regard for the hostages as merely shields to avoid capture and responsibility for their crimes," prosecutors wrote in a position paper on Ali's sentencing.
Ali, who said he was a policeman for about a decade before turning to piracy in 2010 after losing his job, said through an interpreter he wanted to apologize to the victims' families, although no family members were present. He said he hoped that they would forgive him.
"I'd like to express my deep sorrow for the families and the victims for my actions. I am very, very sorry," he said.
Ali is among 11 men who have pleaded guilty to piracy in the case and was the eighth person sentenced to life in prison. A ninth pirate is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday afternoon and two others will be sentenced on Friday.