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A Russian official claimed Tuesday that 10 pirates seized by Russian special forces aboard an oil tanker last week were quickly freed but then died on their way back to the Somali coast.

The unidentified high-ranking Defense Ministry official did not elaborate on how the pirates died, deepening a mystery that has prompted speculation the pirates were executed by commandos who had freed a Russian oil tanker seized in waters 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Somalia’s coast.

The official told Russian news agencies the pirates’ boat disappeared from Russian radar about an hour after their release.

“They could not reach the coast and, apparently, have all died,” the official said.

The Defense Ministry could not be reached despite repeated phone calls Tuesday to the press office and the cell phones of spokesmen.

Russian officials have said one of the 11 pirates was killed during a gunbattle when the Russian special forces stormed the tanker on Thursday. The others, some said to have been wounded, were brought aboard a Russian destroyer.

Officials initially said they would be taken to Russia for trial, but the Defense Ministry said Friday they’d been released because of “imperfections” in international law. The statement was met with skepticism, especially in light of a comment made by the Russian president.

“We’ll have to do what our forefathers did when they met the pirates” until the international community comes up with a legal way of prosecuting them, Dmitry Medvedev said on the day the ship was stormed.

The international community has had difficulty formulating an accepted policy for trying suspected pirates.
Somalia’s ambassador to Russia, Mohammed Handule, told journalists that his government could not identify or locate the pirates. They were believed to be Somalis, but their nationality has never been confirmed.

Source: Mansur Mirovalev for AP News.

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