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Accused Pirates Charged in Deadly Hijacking

(CN) - Fourteen accused pirates have been indicted in connection with the hijacking of a yacht off the coast of East Africa last month that left four Americans dead.

The suspected pirates - 13 from Somalia and one from Yemen - face federal charges in Virginia for seizing the vessel armed with weapons including a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), kidnapping and holding for ransom the U.S. citizens aboard, and eventually shooting and killing the hostages before a military rescue could take place.

At least one of the defendants also fired an RPG at a Navy destroyer, the USS Sterett, prosecutors said.

The U.S. military had been attempting to secure the hostages' safe release through negotiations.

"This is a horrific crime, involving the armed hijacking of an American ship and the slaughter of American citizens," U.S. Attorney Neil McBride said in a statement. "The alleged pirates will now face justice in an American courtroom."

The indictment was returned Tuesday, but remained sealed until the accused pirates made their first appearance before a magistrate judge in Norfolk, Va., which happened Thursday.

Federal prosecutors said the 14 alleged pirates boarded an American yacht south of Oman in the Arabian Sea, and held the hostages for five days. At least three of the defendants participated in the killings, the three-count indictment states.

Following the shooting of the hostages, U.S. Special Forces boarded the yacht and took the suspected pirates into custody. In addition to the RPG, the hijackers were in possession of AK-47's and FAL assault rifles, and also tossed other weapons overboard into the ocean, prosecutors said.

All 14 men were charged with piracy, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, as well as conspiracy to commit kidnapping and using firearms during a crime of violence. The kidnapping charge also calls for a life sentence.

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