U.S.’s First Modern-Day Pirate Prosecutor to Step Down

Mike Schuler
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August 25, 2013

Neil H. MacBride have been U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia since 2010.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), Neil H. MacBride, announced this week that he will be stepping down from his post as the first prosecutor in modern-day America to win a piracy conviction.

Under MacBride’s leadership, the EDVA has been at the forefront of United States high-seas piracy prosecutions and since 2010 has convicted a total 26 pirates captured near Somalia, marking the first piracy convictions in the U.S. in nearly 200 years.

In November 2010, the EDVA prosecuted five Somali pirates involved in a failed attack on the USS Nichols, which they somehow mistook for a merchant vessel in the Indian Ocean. The case was the first successful piracy trial in the United States since the 1820 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Smith.

In a similar case, MacBride and the EDVA prosecuted six defendants charged with the April 10, 2010 attack on the USS Ashland, once again mistaking the Navy ship for a commercial vessel.

The two cases lead a federal appeals court ruling on the definition of piracy on the high seas to include any attack on a ship, successful or not.

Later in 2012, the EDVA successfully prosecuted another high-profile case involving the high-ranking pirate negotiator Mohammed Shibin, who was responsible for negotiating the release of the U.S.-flagged S/V Quest and its four American hostages in February 2011, tragically ending in the killing of the hostages. For his role, Shibin was found guilty on April 27, 2012 and sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences.

In addition, fourteen other defendants were named in the Quest case. To date 11 of them have pled guilty and will receive mandatory life sentences and three others still face capital charges, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Piracy is a scourge that threatens nations, commerce, and individual lives,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement following the sentencing of two of the defendants involved in the Quest incident.

MacBride was appointed by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, on September 15, 2009, to a four year term. His departure will be effective as of midnight September 13, 2013.

Other notable convictions from MacBride’s office include Amine el-Khalifi, who plotted to carry out a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Farooque Ahmed, who planned to bomb the Washington, D.C. metro rail system, among others.

“It has been a dream job to serve as U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia for the last four years,” said MacBride in a a statement announcing his departure. “Not only is EDVA home to great symbols of our country – the Pentagon, the CIA, the Norfolk Naval Base – we are also blessed to have the most talented and dedicated prosecutors and professional staff in the Justice Department. The sacrifice and hard work of my colleagues make our communities safer and I will miss being part of their tireless pursuit of justice. I am incredibly grateful to the President and Attorney General Holder for the confidence and trust they placed in me and for the experience of leading this great office.”

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