Piracy definition in dispute as trial looms

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The trial of a Somali man that U.S. authorities consider the highest-ranking pirate they have ever captured will begin this week in Norfolk, Va., under a cloud of uncertainty about what the definition of piracy is.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin is charged with piracy and a host of other charges for his role in the 2011 hijacking of an American yacht off the coast of Africa in which all four passengers on board were shot and killed.

At issue is whether piracy is legally defined as committing robbery at sea or whether it entails a broader definition that can entail simply attacking a ship or facilitating that attack. U.S. law says piracy is defined by 'the law of nations' and what that definition is, as well as who defines it, is at the heart of the dispute.

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