, MOMBASA, Nov 5 – Seventeen Somalis walked free from court on Friday after becoming the first defendants to be acquitted since Kenya signed a deal with Western states to try suspected pirates.
The men were arrested in the Gulf of Aden in a joint operation by US and South Korean navies on May 13, 2009 as they tried to attack an Egyptian vessel, the MV Amira.
"The prosecution has not proved its case against the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt as required by law," said Magistrate Michael Kizito sitting in Mombasa.
"Consequently, I find that the accused persons are not guilty of the offence with which they were charged and acquit them..," added Kizito.
The magistrate did not say whether the suspects would be deported to Somalia.
They denied the charges of attacking the MV Amira and putting the lives of its crew in danger. The prosecution had brought in nine witnesses.
Some 136 suspected Somali pirates, brought mainly by international navies deployed off Somalia since 2008, are being held in Kenyan prisons and dozens have been sentenced to jail terms.
Nairobi has indicated it was not ready to renew agreements allowing for the trial of Somali pirates captured off Somali by the United States, Britain and some EU countries to be tried in Kenya.
Kenya and the Seychelles are the only coastal countries to have agreed to try suspects handed over by the foreign navies.