WASHINGTON (AP) — An alleged Somali pirate has been ordered back into custody after an appeals court reversed a lower court's decision to release him.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle ordered Ali Mohamed Ali released to home confinement at a friend's house while the government pursues an appeal that could delay his trial until next year.
But on Friday night, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously reversed Huvelle's ruling and instructed her to return Ali to custody pending trial. Huvelle then issued an order returning him to custody of the Department of Corrections.
Ali is accused of negotiating a ransom payment during a November 2008 pirate takeover of a Danish merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden. His trial was scheduled to begin this week, but prosecutors appealed portions of Huvelle's pretrial ruling that went against the government, likely delaying the case for months.
When she ordered him released last week, the judge told prosecutors, "Why should I keep him locked up for another year so you can litigate a principle?" Since his release, Ali has been staying at the home of a friend in nearby Centreville, Va. The friend said he knows Ali from "way back in Somalia."
The government had opposed his release, arguing that Ali posed a flight risk. In their ruling Friday night, appeals court judges Janice Rogers Brown, Karen LeCraft Henderson and Brett M. Kavanaugh — all Republican appointees — said "the issues presented occasion no need for an opinion."
In their ruling, the judges noted the appeals court had previously affirmed the district court's Dec. 21, 2001, ruling that "no condition or combinations of conditions will reasonably assure appellee's appearance if he is released." They said "the underlying reasons for this court's prior decision remain substantially unchanged."
That December ruling was made by Judge Paul L. Friedman, but the case has since been transferred to Huvelle. Both Friedman and Huvelle are Democratic appointees.
Neither Ali's lawyer nor the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuting the case had any immediate comment Friday night.
Ali was originally indicted for conspiracy to commit piracy; piracy under the law of nations; conspiracy to commit hostage-taking; and hostage-taking. On July 13, Huvelle dismissed the conspiracy to commit piracy count and ruled that for the other piracy count the government would have to prove that Ali "intentionally facilitated acts of piracy while he was on the high seas" — and not in Somalia's territorial waters or somewhere else.
When the government said it would appeal that ruling, Huvelle said she'd dismiss both hostage-taking charges. At a previous hearing, the judge was irate to learn that Ali had been in international waters for only 24 to 28 minutes, and told prosecutors they had misled her about the case and called their behavior inexcusable.
Huvelle said there was no evidence that Ali engaged in violence and said the government's case lacked a "smoking gun."
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