Somali nationals Ahmed Muse Salad, a/k/a “Afmagalo,” 25, Abukar Osman Beyle, 20, and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 29, who were previously found guilty by jury of all 26 counts charged to include piracy, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, hostage taking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death and multiple firearms offenses, were sentenced today by a federal jury. The three defendants were sentenced to life-in-prison for their roles in the February 22, 2011 murder of four Americans aboard the sailing vessel Quest. The victims included: Scott Underwood Adam, Jean Savage Adam, Phyllis Patricia Macay and Robert Campbell Riggle.
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) of the FBI’s New York Field Office; Royce E. Curtin, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, and Michael Monroe, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), made the announcement after the sentence was accepted by Chief United States District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith.
“Four Americans were taken hostage, terrorized and then murdered. Life in prison is reserved for those who commit heinous crimes – and the jury today decided the execution of four innocent Americans on the high seas meets that high bar,” said United States Attorney Neil H. MacBride. “Scott Adam, Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay, and Robert Riggle lost their lives and their families lost their loved ones. Nothing can make this right; nothing can make their families whole again – but we hope today’s verdict and sentences will bring some closure to their nightmare that began two years ago on the Indian Ocean.”
“This case exemplifies the ongoing, outstanding cooperation between federal law enforcement and federal prosecutors,” said Norfolk SAC Royce Curtin. “Today’s sentencing should send a clear message to anyone committing acts of criminal violence against American citizens at sea that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos stated, “Pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades took four innocent Americans hostage aboard their own vessel. When negotiations reached an impasse, one pirate launched a grenade at a nearby U.S. Navy ship while others murdered four Americans aboard the Quest. Today’s life sentences provide a vigorous deterrent for armed bandits roaming our seas. The FBI's commitment to stopping this scourge of violence is unwavering.”
The defendants were previously indicted on July 8, 2011, by a federal grand jury on 26 counts, which included conspiracy to commit hostage taking, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death, conspiracy to commit violence against maritime navigation resulting in death, piracy, and firearms offenses. The defendants were convicted on all 26 counts on July 8, 2013. According to court records and evidence at trial, Salad, Beyle, Abrar and others—armed with firearms and a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG)—boarded the Quest while the four Americans slept on February 18, 2011. They gained control of the vessel and took the four American citizens as hostages. Their plan was to take the hostages to Somalia, where they and their additional co-conspirators in Somalia could commence ransom negotiations. While they sailed toward Somalia, the three defendants and their coconspirators were taking turns standing armed guard over the hostages; at the same time, United States Navy ships headed towards the Quest to aid the hostages and prevent the Quest from proceeding to Somalia.
Beginning on February 19, 2011, communications had been established and the United States Navy and the FBI began negotiating with the pirates to secure the safe release of the hostages. On February 21, 2011, two co-conspirators representing the pirates onboard the Quest, were transferred to the USS Sterett to negotiate. The negotiations reached an impasse when the co-conspirators were told that they were not going to be allowed to take the hostages ashore in Somalia. The decision was made to detain the co-conspirators after they refused to release the hostages and threatened to kill them if they were not allowed to return to Somalia.
Testimony revealed that Abrar fired a shot over the head of Scott Adam and instructed Adam to tell the Navy that if the military came any closer, the conspirators would kill the hostages.
On February 22, 2011, without provocation and before the hostages could be rescued by members of the military, a co-conspirator fired an RPG in the general direction of the USS Sterett. Witnesses testified that sustained firing came from the Quest and that glass could be seen breaking on the starboard side of the Quest. Witnesses also testified that Salad, Beyle, and Abrar were the shooters and responsible for the deaths of Scott Adam, Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay, and Robert Riggle. After the gun fire died down, the Navy dispatched SEALS to the Quest. The pirates aboard the Quest began surrendering and some were seen throwing AK-47 rifles into the water.
This case was investigated by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph DePadilla, Brian J. Samuels, and Benjamin L. Hatch prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.