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Three Somalis sentenced for hijacking French yacht


A French court sentenced three Somalis Friday to nine years in prison for the 2009 hijacking of a French yacht. The defendants' request for leniency on the grounds that they were forced into piracy by abject poverty was rejected by prosecutors.


A French court on Friday sentenced three Somali pirates to nine years in prison each for the 2009 hijacking off the Somali coast of a French yacht that led to the death of its skipper.

The three pirates had asked for leniency, saying they were forced into piracy by lives of abject poverty.

Prosecutors earlier Friday called for jail terms of 10 to 12 years.

Prosecutor Brigitte Ernoult-Cabot rejected the pirates' claim that they had been coerced into their criminal business and said they had rather been motivated by "easy money".

French troops stormed the 12-metre Tanit sailboat in April 2009 and captured the trio during a bid to free Florent Lemacon, his wife, their three-year-old son and two crew members.

They killed two pirates but also accidentally shot dead Lemacon during the operation.

The three accused -- Mohamed Mahamud, Abdelkader Osman Ali and Mahamud Abdi Mohamed, aged between 26 and 31 -- have been on trial since Monday.

During the trial, the three accused had said they turned to piracy out of desperation and expressed regret at their actions.

"What they want is not even to live but just to survive," said one of their lawyers, Fabian Lahaie.

For his client, piracy "was a job as any other", he said.

A lawyer for the survivors, Arnaud Colon de Franciosi, said they were not looking "for vengeance" but that the accused should be "held responsible" for their acts.

Former French Defence Minister Herve Morin said Wednesday that "poverty does not justify everything".

The families have not criticised soldiers involved in the raid, but have accused the French government of authorising the "dangerous operation" without enough regard for the hostages.

In this case "French state leaders decided to teach the piracy masterminds on the continent a lesson", argued Colon de Franciosi.

"I believe that Florent Lemacon died for reasons of national interest. This operation was meant as a powerful signal to the Somalis, while the hostages were put on the backburner."

The Lemacons had left the northwestern French port of Vannes in 2008 for a journey to Zanzibar. They were taken hostage on April 6, 2009 off the Somali coast.

France has taken a tough line on pirates caught by its forces in the waters off east Africa, where dozens of mainly merchant vessels have been seized and held for ransom in recent years.



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