FBI agents escort the Somali pirate U.S. officials identified as Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse into FBI headquarters in New York on Monday.AP photo
NEW YORK — Prosecutors say Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse was not shy about making his presence known on the Maersk Alabama, brazenly tearing through the ship in a way that belied his young age and skinny, 5-foot-2 frame.
He was the first to board the ship, fired a shot at the captain, helped steal $30,000 in cash from a safe, and bragged about hijacking ships in the past, authorities said.
But the swagger authorities say the 18-year-old displayed on the ship had evaporated by the time he entered a federal courtroom Tuesday to face a piracy charge that carries a mandatory life prison sentence. He is the first pirate charged in the United States in more than a century.
The tough demeanor he was alleged to have shown on the high seas dissolved into audible sobs as his lawyers notified the court that they had spoken to his family in Somalia. When the judge asked him if he understood that court-appointed lawyers would represent him, the teenager responded through a translator: “I understand. I don’t have any money.” He still had a tattered white bandage on his left hand that resulted from getting stabbed by a sailor during the skirmish.
His defense lawyers portrayed Muse as a frightened kid and not the violent pirate depicted by prosecutors. They believe he is 15 years old and should be given greater protections under international law because of his age and the circumstances of his situation, and predicted he would be exonerated.
“As you can tell, he’s extremely young, injured and terrified,” lawyer Deirdre von Dornum said.
Muse was charged with several counts, including piracy under the law of nations. That charge carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.
The decision by the federal government to bring Muse to justice here has thrust the teenager into international spotlight and has raised legal questions about whether the U.S. is going too far in trying to make an example of someone so young.