The sole surviving suspect from an attack on an American cargo ship off the coast of Somalia has been indicted on piracy charges.
Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse has been jailed in Manhattan since his capture on April 12. U.S. prosecutors have portrayed him as the ringleader of the band of pirates that hijacked the Maersk Alabama ship last month.
The FBI maintains that Muse was the first pirate to board the boat as it was about 280 miles off the Somali coast. He and others held the captain hostage until Navy sharpshooters killed three other suspects.
The 18-year-old Muse wept when his lawyers failed last month to convince a federal judge he was only 15 and should be tried as a juvenile. His mother also appealed to federal officials, saying he had been coerced into the piracy ring.
While being held in the New York jail, Muse has been given painkillers and antibiotics to treat a hand injury he sustained during the siege, and he was also given a Quran to use in prayer and a special diet.
But he essentially has no idea what's going on, his lawyer said last month, as he faces what's believed to be the first U.S. piracy prosecution in more than a century.
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The Maersk's captain, Richard Phillips, of Underhill, Vt., was held captive five days until Navy sharpshooters killed three other pirates floating in a lifeboat with him.
The decision by the federal government to bring Muse to justice in the United States has thrust the skinny teenager into the 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.
The most serious count against Muse carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors portray Muse as the brazen ringleader of the pirates who shot at the ship's captain and bragged about prior marauding on the high seas. They say he gave wildly varying accounts of his age after his capture but is believed to be over 18. His parents, contacted in Somalia, say he's 15.
During court proceedings Tuesday, the 5-foot-2 Muse looked bewildered and so scrawny that his prison clothes were several sizes too big. He put his head in his hands and cried when his lawyers mentioned his family.
"We're at the beginning of the beginning," his lawyer said. "He's confused, overwhelmed. He doesn't quite appreciate fully what's going on."
Muse spends his days and nights in a 7 1/2-by-8-foot cinderblock cell with only a bunkbed, a sink and a toilet at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. The lockup houses a range of criminals, from Bernard Madoff to assorted murderers and mobsters.