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Prosecution demands death sentence for leader of Somali pirates

   BUSAN, May 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's prosecution on Friday sought a death sentence for the leader of a group of Somali pirates as well as lifetime imprisonment for three other pirates for their attack on a South Korean freighter early this year.

   Capital punishment was sought for Mahomed Arai, 21, who allegedly shot the captain of the ship, the Samho Jewelry, and now faces charges of maritime attempted murder, robbery and six other offenses.

   Busan prosecutors also asked that the three others -- Abdikhad Iman Ali, Abdullah Ali and Aul Brallat -- be sentenced to life imprisonment for similar charges.

   The Samho Jewelry was seized in the Arabian Sea by the Somali pirates on Jan. 15 but was retaken during a raid by South Korean naval commandos six days later. A total of five pirates were captured alive and transfered to stand trial in South Korea.

   In the sentencing trial at the Busan District Court, prosecutors claimed that Arai shot the freighter's captain, Seok Hae-kyun, and used crew members as human shields during the raid, citing the other members' statements that they saw Arai carrying a rifle and heard gunshots right after Arai was looking for the captain.

   The prosecution argued that Seok was found to be injured by an AK rifle, which the pirates have used. It also presented crew members' statements as evidence that they were forced to move out to a wing bridge of the ship with a hail of bullets.

   Legal representatives of the accused, however, claimed that nobody witnessed Arai shooting the captain and only a fragment related to the AK rifle was found in Seok's body. They said the pirates did not mean to take the sailors up to the wing bridge to use them as human shields.

   A nine-member jury will suggest a verdict and sentence for the four pirates in the afternoon, and the judges will announce the final verdict. Under South Korean laws, the judges are not bound to the jury's decision.

   The fifth pirate, however, faced a separate trial because he pleaded guilty to all his charges. He will be sentenced on June 1.

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