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Four pirates plead not guilty to maritime murder attempt charges
BUSAN, May 23 (Yonhap) -- The legal representative of one of the four Somali pirates suspected of hijacking a South Korean freighter and shooting its captain early this year claimed Monday that a South Korean court does not have jurisdiction over the piracy case, which will be tried in the southern port city of Busan.

   Prosecutors in February indicted a total of five Somali pirates captured alive during a Jan. 21 rescue operation by South Korean Navy commandos in the Arabian Sea on charges of maritime piracy, accusing one of them of shooting the South Korean captain. Eight other pirates were killed during the operation, and all 21 crew members were rescued, though the 58-year-old skipper, Seok Hae-kyun, was shot several times during the gun battle.

   The Busan District Court, which has jurisdiction over an area where the Korean shipping company is located, decided to have four of the pirates who pleaded not guilty to the charges stand a five-day jury trial from Monday with the verdict due on Friday. The remaining pirate, however, will face a separate trial on Tuesday because he pleaded guilty to all his charges. He will be sentenced on June 1.

   On the first day of the trial, a lawyer of one of the indicted pirates argued that the South Korean authorities are not eligible to try them.

   "Based on the (United Nations) Convention on the Law of the Sea and other treaties, South Korea can arrest them but there is no legal grounds for it to transfer them to South Korea," said Jeong Hae-young, a legal representative of Abdikhadal Iman Ali, 21. "And I don't see that the transfer was done under the due process of law."

   "As the transfer was illegal, the Busan District Court does not have jurisdiction over the accused," he added.

   The court said it will make a decision on the jurisdiction issue when it delivers the final verdict on Friday.

   The trial marks South Korea's first attempt to punish any foreign pirate in its territory, attracting huge attention from the public and media.

   The court deployed some 100 riot police and required a limited number of spectators and journalists to pass through a security inspection before entering the courtroom in a bid to maintain security and order in the court.

   A nine-member jury is hearing the case and will suggest a verdict and sentence, to which the judges are not bound.

   The hearing will go on until May 27, and the final verdict and sentence will be announced on the last day.