PARIS (Reuters) - Seven Somali men accused of hijacking a French yacht in an assault in which its owner was killed and his wife abducted in the Arabian Sea four years ago appeared before a French court on Tuesday, all facing life sentences.
The men have not been charged with homicide, but with hijacking - a crime punishable with life imprisonment - as well as theft, abduction and illegal confinement, according to Martin Pradel, the lawyer of one of the suspected attackers.
The trial, set to last two weeks, is the latest in a series of judicial cases in France involving maritime piracy abroad.
Jury members and magistrates at the Paris court will aim to establish responsibilities during the attack in September 2011 that led to a shooting in which the French skipper, Christian Colombo, aged 55, was killed.
His wife was abducted for two days in what French media described as horrendous conditions before being rescued by Spanish naval forces in a raid on a skiff off the coast of Yemen. The seven suspects were captured during the raid.
The couple were sailing from Yemen to Oman on a trip around the world when gunmen seized their yacht. Evelyne Colombo told her rescuers that the assailants had dumped her husband's body in the sea after he was killed.
Reporting by Pauline Mevel; Writing by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Geert De Clercq/Mark Heinrich