Accused Somali pirate to be tried as adult
Charged with five crimes; could face life imprisonment if convicted
Stephen Chernin / Getty Images
Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse grins as he is led into a federal building in New York City on Monday. The teenager was detained by the U.S. Navy before snipers killed three pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips hostage off Somalia’s coast.
Pirate suspect to be tried as adult
April 21: A federal judge determined that the sole surviving pirate from an attack on an American cargo ship off the Somali coast is an adult. He will be the first to face piracy charges in the U.S. in more than a century. NBC’s Ron Allen reports.
Somali pirate to face trial in U.S.
April 20: The only surviving Somali pirate of the four that held Captain Richard Phillips hostage last week is being brought to the United States to face federal charges in a New York courtroom Tuesday. NBC’s Brian Williams reports.
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NEW YORK – The sole survivor among a group of pirates accused of attacking an American cargo ship off the Somali coast was charged as an adult Tuesday with piracy after a prosecutor said he gave wildly varying ages for himself but finally admitted he was 18.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck said Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse could be treated as an adult in U.S. courts after a closed hearing during which he said Muse’s father gave conflicting testimony about the ages of his children.
Muse was charged with several counts, including piracy under the law of nations. That charge carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.
In addition to piracy, he was charged with conspiracy to seize a ship by force; discharging a firearm; conspiracy to commit hostage taking; and brandishing a firearm while committing hostage taking.
Muse sobbed early in the hearing when his attorneys mentioned they had contacted his family in Somalia. Peck closed the hearing for testimony about Muse’s age and to decide whether he was a juvenile. After the judge reopened the courtroom, he had lawyers on each side recount what happened.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire said Muse initially told a Somali interpreter on April 12, when he was first detained, that he was 16, then that he was 19, then that he was 26.
Muse indicated a day later on a different U.S. Navy vessel that he was 19, McGuire said. The prosecutor said Muse told an FBI agent Monday that his age was 15 but later apologized to the agent for lying, telling him he was 18, going on 19.
McGuire said investigators also spoke to one of Muse’s brothers, who indicated he was 18.
Muse is the sole surviving Somali pirate from the hostage-taking of an American ship captain from Vermont.
He faces what are believed to be the first piracy charges in the United States in more than a century.
Mother appeals to Obama
Handcuffed with a chain wrapped around his waist and about a dozen federal agents surrounding him, the slight teen seemed poised as he passed through the glare of dozens of news cameras in a drenching rainstorm on his way to court. His left hand was heavily bandaged from the wound he suffered during the skirmish on the cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama.
The teenager was flown from Africa to a New York airport on the same day that his mother appealed to President Barack Obama for his release. She said her son was coaxed into piracy by "gangsters with money."
"I appeal to President Obama to pardon my teenager; I request him to release my son or at least allow me to see him and be with him during the trial," Adar Abdirahman Hassan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her home in Galkayo town in Somalia.
The boy’s father, Abdiqadir Muse, said the pirates lied to his son, telling him they were going to get money. The family is penniless, he said.
"He just went with them without knowing what he was getting into," Muse said in a separate telephone interview with the AP through an interpreter.
Muse called his son a good boy and a "very well-disciplined young kid." He had been going to an Islamic school at the time he left with the pirates, Muse said.
He also said it was his son’s first outing with the pirates after having been taken from his home about a week and a half before he surrendered at sea to U.S. officials.
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The government has not said how it knows the defendant is 18, but verifying his actual age could prove difficult because of the anarchy that has ruled Somalia for two decades.
His worried family asked the Minneapolis-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center to help get him a lawyer, said the organization’s executive director, Omar Jamal.
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"What we have is a confused teenager, overnight thrown into the highest level of the criminal justice system in the United States out of a country where there’s no law at all," Jamal said. Muse speaks no English, he said.
The suspect was taken aboard a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Bainbridge, shortly before Navy SEAL snipers killed three of his colleagues who had held Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips hostage.
The U.S. officials said the teenager was brought to New York to face trial in part because the FBI office here has a history of handling cases in Africa involving major crimes against Americans, such as the al-Qaida bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.
Ron Kuby, a New York-based civil rights lawyer, said he has been in discussions about forming a legal team to represent the Somali suspect.
"I think in this particular case, there’s a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas," said Kuby. "This man seemed to come onto the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.