Suspected pirates could be sent to U.S. for trial

WASHINGTON — As many as 20 suspected pirates held on U.S. ships off the coast of Somalia may soon be headed to the United States for prosecution, according to U.S. officials.

The potential transfer, which was not final late Friday, would come amid heated debate among U.S. and other international agencies over where piracy suspects should be sent for trial. Kenya, Somalia's neighbor, began refusing this month to take piracy suspects, saying the trials were putting strains on its court system.

Senior officials from several U.S. agencies met at the White House on Thursday to discuss the issue, which largely involves piracy suspects caught while allegedly attacking U.S. vessels. Officials said it is still unclear whether all or some of the suspects would be transferred to the United States for trial, but details for the transfer were being formulated as other prosecution options were being explored.

Officials spoke about the discussions on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The Justice Department would not comment.

There also have been preliminary discussions about setting up a special international court to try piracy suspects, because a number of countries will not act against suspected pirates who are turned over to them. Officials said, however, that those talks are in very early stages.