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S. Korea charges pirates with attempted murder

SEOUL, Feb 25 – South Korean prosecutors Friday charged five suspected Somali pirates captured in January with attempted murder — punishable by life imprisonment — and said some had also seized one of Seoul\’s ships last year.

The five were captured during a dramatic raid by Seoul\’s navy commandos in the Arabian Sea and flown to South Korea, in the country\’s first legal attempt to punish foreign pirates.

Eight other pirates were killed during the raid on the South Korean-owned Samho Jewelry on January 15 while all 21 crew were rescued.

Captain Seok Hae-Kyun, 58, was shot several times and remains in a serious but stable condition.

Prosecutors in the southern port of Busan said a pirate identified as Arai Mahomed shot the captain when commandos launched their raid.

They said one bullet that seriously injured Seok matched Mahomed\’s gun and two that caused less serious wounds came from the commandos\’ weapons. Mahomed denied shooting the captain.

Prosecutors said they have brought six charges against each of the pirates, including maritime robbery, attempted murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and kidnapping.

They said they have evidence including testimony from the Somalis and from crew members held hostage on the ship. It was not known when the trial would start.

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Some of the pirates turned out to have taken part in the hijacking of a South Korean supertanker owned by the same firm last year, they said.

The 300,000-tonne Samho Dream and its 24 crew were released after a reported $9 million ransom payment.

The case is being closely watched by other countries tackling piracy, as is a similar one in Malaysia.

Earlier this month a Kuala Lumpur court charged seven Somali pirates with firing at Malaysian forces during a raid to free a hijacked tanker, under laws that carry the death penalty.

Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a lawless, war-torn country that sits alongside one of the world\’s most important shipping routes.

But many of those caught by an international fleet of warships are freed because there is nowhere to try them.

Germany and Spain have recently taken steps to try suspected pirates in their own courts.

A New York court this month sentenced a teenaged Somali pirate captured in a dramatic high seas operation to nearly 34 years in prison.

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