August 3, 2006

Suspected Somali pirate accuses US of torture

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - One of ten suspected Somali
pirates captured by the U.S. Navy early this year accused on
Thursday the United States of torture at the opening of a trial
intended to deter rampant piracy off Somalia's coast.

"We were arrested by the U.S. Navy and forced to board the
American ship. Inside the ship we were tortured by the
Americans who could not understand our language," defendant
Hassan Mahamud Mohamed told the court in Kenya's coastal town
of Mombasa.

He did not give details on the alleged torture.

U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment.

Piracy is endemic off Somalia's coastline, but more foreign
patrols and the anti-piracy stance of Mogadishu's newly
powerful Islamists have stemmed a wave of attacks in Somali

U.S. Navy sailors captured a ship near the Somali capital
Mogadishu in January with the 10 suspected pirates on board and
16 Indians believed to be hostages.

The 10 men pleaded not guilty in late January after U.S.
officials handed them over to authorities in neighboring Kenya.

Mohamed said he and the nine others were stranded fisherman
who boarded an Indian-owned ship looking for refuge, and were
not pirates.

"We had gone fishing when our engine boat stalled and we
got stranded in the high seas. Then we saw an Indian vessel and
we sought help from the crew by raising our hands. We boarded
the Indian vessel then we saw an American ship," he said.

The accusation came as a Kenyan magistrate said earlier on
Thursday the suspects would stand trial in Kenya.

Lawyers for the accused had questioned in February Kenya's
right to try them, saying the United States had seized the
Somalis in international waters.

"You have a case to answer," magistrate Beatrice Jaden

Defense lawyers said they planned to appeal the ruling.

Washington has praised Kenya for taking custody of the
suspects, but relatives of the arrested Somalis have warned the
east African nation against cooperating with the Americans.

The hearing was postponed until August 8.