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U.S. Repatriates 10 Somalis

American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, April 29, 2006 – The U.S. government has decided to repatriate 10 of 12 Somalis who fired upon two U.S. Navy vessels in an incident that occurred on March 18.

The U.S. government worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross to make arrangements for today's repatriation. The two remaining Somalis continue to receive follow-on medical care aboard USS Peleliu for injuries sustained during the initial incident.

During the March 18 incident, the Somalis were operating in a suspicious manner at approximately 5:40 a.m. local time, similar to previous pirate activity in the area, when U.S. Navy boarding teams were directed to investigate, U.S. military officials said. As the boarding teams approached in small rigid-hulled inflatable boats, the Somalis opened fire.

Cape St. George, a guided-missile cruiser, and Gonzalez, a guided-missile destroyer, were conducting maritime security operations in the area as part of Combined Task Force 150 when they spotted a suspect vessel towing two smaller skiffs bearing west toward the coast. The location and behavior of the skiffs were consistent with recent pirate activity in the area. As Gonzalez's boarding teams prepared to conduct a routine boarding of the suspect vessels, the two Norfolk, Va.-based Navy ships noticed the group of suspected pirates were brandishing what appeared to be rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

The suspects opened fire on the boarding teams, which prompted a lethal response by U.S. forces. During the engagement, one Somali was killed and a fire ignited aboard the main suspect vessel. The ensuing fire destroyed that vessel.

Boarding teams from Cape St. George and Gonzalez took the 12 Somalis involved in the incident into custody. The Navy boarding teams confiscated an RPG launcher, automatic weapons, and the two remaining skiffs. No U.S. sailors were injured in the engagement.

The Navy ships immediately provided medical treatment to the wounded suspects. Royal Netherlands Navy medical personnel, including a medical doctor, from the HNLMS Amsterdam also assisted.

The suspects were then screened for possible criminal activity and terrorists connections and remained in custody while those screenings were completed. After careful consideration, U.S. government officials determined that repatriation would be the most effective and appropriate course of action in this matter.

Coalition forces conduct maritime security operations under international maritime law and conventions to ensure security and safety in international waters so that all commercial shipping can operate freely while transiting the region, U.S. military officials said.

(From a U.S. Naval Forces Central Command news release.)

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