By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Somali man accused of negotiating a ransom for two American couples held hostage and later killed by pirates has been brought to the United States to face criminal charges, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Mohammad Saaili Shibin has been charged in U.S. federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, over the alleged pirating of an American yacht in February off the coast of Somalia and the taking hostage of four U.S. citizens who were later killed.
He was brought to the United States and indicted by a federal grand jury on March 8 but it remained sealed until now. Shibin is slated for a detention hearing later on Wednesday.
According to the indictment, he researched over the Internet who the hostages were to try to determine how much ransom to demand and the identity of their family members so he could contact them about a ransom.
The four slain Americans were Jean and Scott Adam of California and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle from Seattle.
Justice Department officials said the defendant was identified by his conspirators as the person in Somalia responsible for negotiating the ransom.
Pirate gangs operating off the coast of Somalia have stepped up hijacking attacks on vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships, including oil tankers.
In this incident, a group of pirates seized the yacht and were negotiating with the U.S. military to release the couples when a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.
Gunfire then broke out inside the pirated vessel, prompting the U.S. military to send American special forces to board the ship. The U.S. military has said the pirates shot the hostages before American troops boarded the yacht.
U.S. troops killed two pirates as they boarded the boat. Another two were found dead when special forces arrived but they were not killed by U.S. forces, the military has said.
Thirteen Somalis and one Yemeni were brought to Norfolk a month ago to face charges of piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and use of firearms during a crime stemming from the incident.
(Reporting by James Vicini, editing by Will Dunham)