Somalis charged in pirate attacks plead not guilty

NORFOLK, Va. —Nine Somali men accused of attacking two U.S. Navy ships off the coast of Africa pleaded not guilty Friday to piracy, plundering and weapons charges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Bradford Stillman ordered the nine held until their trials, tentatively scheduled for July. The government is expected to seek September trial dates.

Of 11 Somali men indicted last week on U.S. charges, one entered a not guilty plea Wednesday and another is scheduled to be arraigned next week.

The nine men arraigned Friday were scheduled to enter pleas on Wednesday but attorneys representing them said they needed more time to explain the government's accusations with an interpreter present. Some said they had spent only 30 minutes with their client and were not confident they understood U.S. court procedures.

None of the defendants speak English. All face mandatory life terms, if convicted.

Attorneys said they not only faced a language barrier, but the cultural shock the men faced after they were detained by the Navy and taken to the U.S.

"My client doesn't read or speak any language, much less English," William J. Holmes, who represents Gabul Abdullahi Ali, said before Friday's hearing. "It's like being picked up and being taken to another planet."

Questioned by Stillman, the defendants listed their ages as 18 to 32 and all but one said they had no education at all.

"I have never even seen a school," Abdi Wali Dire told Stillman through an interpreter.

Stillman seemed incredulous when one of the men said he was 18, though he appeared much older. When pressed, the defendant said he did not know his birth date.

Each man is charged with piracy, attacks to plunder a vessel, assault with a dangerous weapon, and other weapons counts.