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Somalis on trial in France for yacht hijacking

Six Somali men accused of taking a French couple hostage on their yacht went on trial in Paris on Tuesday in France's first prosecution of alleged Somali pirates.

They are facing charges of hijacking, kidnapping and armed robbery after they allegedly seized the yacht and its crew, Jean-Yves Delanne and his wife Bernadette, both aged 60, off the coast of Somalia in 2008.

They face life in prison if convicted.

The six, aged between 21 and 35, were captured and flown to France after French special forces stormed the yacht, the Carre d’As IV, and rescued the couple. A seventh suspect was killed in the raid.

One of the suspects was a minor at the time of the crime but the court granted the defence’s request to hold the trial in public and not behind closed doors.

The suspects had reportedly demanded a ransom of $2 million (€1.5 million) for the couple’s release.

But in the French courtroom on Tuesday only one of them admitted to taking part as an “underling” in the hostage-taking.

“I was in such a financial situation, I have six children, it was then that I crossed paths with someone who recruited me,” said Ahmed Hamoud Mahmoud, a fisherman who is accused of being one of the leaders of the operation.

Another Somali suspect claimed he himself was “kidnapped” by pirates who commandeered his boat to carry out the operation.

One suspect spoke of being grabbed by pirates when he got into trouble in the Gulf of Aden en route to Yemen to look for work, while another said all he did was cook the food.

Their trial, which resumes Wednesday and is expected to last to November 30th, marks the first time France has brought alleged Somali pirates to court.

Somali suspects in three other cases are currently awaiting trial.

Dozens of ships, mainly merchant vessels, have been seized by gangs off Somalia’s 3,700-kilometre coastline in recent years.

The pirates travel in high-powered speedboats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. They sometimes hold ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.

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YEMEN

French firm strikes Saudi weapons deal despite Yemen pressure

Saudi Arabia's state arms producer and a French government-majority firm signed an agreement Sunday on a joint venture to boost the kingdom's navy, amid calls to halt weapons sales to Riyadh over it role in Yemen.

French firm strikes Saudi weapons deal despite Yemen pressure
Saudi hovercraft participate in last year's "Gulf Shield 1" military drills. Photo: Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP

The memorandum of understanding between Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) and France's Naval Group is aimed at providing the oil-rich Gulf state's navy with “state-of-the-art systems”, a statement said.  

“Through design, construction, and maintenance activities, the joint venture will contribute significantly to further enhancing the capabilities and readiness of our Royal Saudi Naval Forces,” SAMI boss Andreas Schwer said.

A spokeswoman for Naval Group — which is owned by the French state and French multinational giant Thales — refused to give any more details.    

French lawmakers and rights groups have repeatedly called on France's government to suspend all arms deals to Riyadh because of the war in Yemen, where some 10,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015.  

Riyadh is battling on the side of the internationally recognised government against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, in a conflict that has seen all sides accused of potential war crimes. 

The US House of Representatives this week voted overwhelmingly to end American involvement in Saudi Arabia's war effort in neighbouring Yemen, dealing a rebuke to President Donald Trump and his alliance with the kingdom.

France, one of the world's biggest arms exporters, has sold equipment to Riyadh and fellow coalition member the UAE — notably Caesar artillery guns and ammunition, sniper rifles and armoured vehicles.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has been one of the world's top arms buyers for the past several years.

But in 2017, the kingdom's Public Investment Fund set up SAMI to manufacture arms locally with the fund expecting it to become one of the world's top 25 defence companies by 2030.

Naval Group — which was previously called DCNS — has been embroiled in a long-running graft scandal over the 2002 sale of two Scorpene submarines to Malaysia for $1.2 billion. 

The submarine maker is alleged to have paid more than 114 million euros ($128 million) in kickbacks to a shell company linked to a close associate of ousted Malaysian leader Najib Razak. 

A French investigation launched in 2010 has already led to four French executives involved in the deal being charged. They all deny wrongdoing.

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