Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Somali Youth Held in US Custody Awaiting Trial Under Slave-era Law

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
01:59 Mecca time, 22:59 GMT

US court charges Somali with piracy

The US crew of the Maersk Alabama fought off pirates who attacked their ship

A US court has charged a Somali national with piracy after the seizure of a US ship off the coast of the Horn of African nation.

Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse is alleged to be one of four men who captured the Maersk Alabama cargo ship off the Somali coast on April 8 before being fought off by the US crew.

A federal judge at the New York court ruled that Muse could be tried as an adult despite claims by his family that he was 16, after prosecutors said the defendant had told the FBI he was 18.

Muse is also charged with conspiracy to seize a ship by force, conspiracy to commit hostage taking and related firearms offences.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Also on Tuesday, Somali pirates freed a chemical tanker and its 23 Filipino crew members after holding them hostage for more than five months.

The ship had reportedly been carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid from Dakar, Senegal, and was en route to Kandla in India when it was seized.

It is not clear if a ransom was paid.

Captain held

Muse, who was brought to New York by US authorities on Monday night, at one point cried out and appeared to wipe away a tear during the hearing.

His hand remained bandaged after he was hit by a Maersk Alabama crew member armed with a pickaxe as they battled the alleged pirates.

When told by the judge he would be represented by lawyers free of charge, he said through a Somali translator: "I understand. I don't have any money."

Concerns have been raised among the Somali community in North America over the decision to try Muse in the US.

"A teenager coming from a country where there is no law, no government, is suddenly put through one of the highest levels of the criminal justice system in the United States. So this is as confusing as anyone can imagine," Omar Jamal, the executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Centre, told Al Jazeera.

The hostage charges relate to the pirates seizing Richard Phillips, the US captain of the Maersk Alabama, and holding him hostage in a small lifeboat.

Phillips was later rescued by US forces after navy snipers shot dead three of the pirates and arrested Muse, allegedly as he was negotiating over the captain's release on a US vessel.

Teenage defendants are entitled to greater protections under international law, and Muse's age could be a factor in a prison sentence if he is convicted.

Plea to Obama

Muse's mother said on Tuesday that he had been coerced into piracy by "gangsters with money" and appealed to Barack Obama, the US president, to release him or to allow for her to visit where he is being held.

"I appeal to the American government, President Obama, to release my young, poor misled 16 year old student son. I appeal for his release. If not, I ask him to take me to where he will be tried," Adar Abdirahman Hassan, who lives in the Somali town of Galkayo, told the Associated Press news agency.

The boy's father, Abdiqadir Muse, also said the pirates had lied to his son, telling him they were going to get money.

The hijacking of the Maersk Alabama prompted calls for tightened measures to protect ships in the busy shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Somali pirate to appear in New York court

NEW YORK, AFP-- The lone surviving pirate caught by US forces in a high-seas drama off Somalia was reportedly due to appear in court here yesterday on what are believed to be the first US piracy charges in a century.

Abdi Wali Muse arrived in the city late Monday. US media said he was expected in court yesterday but the prosecutor’s office in New York said it was "neither confirming nor denying" the reports.

A smiling Muse was on Monday led by federal agents past a bank of media cameras and into New York’s Federal Plaza in a driving rainstorm.

His left hand was heavily bandaged with white gauze, the result of an injury sustained aboard the Maersk Alabama when a US crew member stabbed him during a struggle for control of the freighter which had been hijacked by four pirates including Muse.

The Maersk Alabama saga, which began when Somali pirates swarmed the US-flagged cargo ship on April 8, captured the world’s attention and shed a spotlight on the problem posed by low-tech pirates to some of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes.

The incident was highly unusual because the unarmed, all-American crew led by Captain Richard Phillips fought back and prevented the pirates from taking control of their vessel.

The pirates eventually fled the ship, taking Phillips hostage on a lifeboat.

Phillips and four pirates were then marooned in a lifeboat, shadowed all the time by US naval forces. The captain attempted to escape but was caught. Muse had been detained on the Navy ship after surrendering when, on the fifth day of the ordeal, Navy SEAL snipers shot dead the three remaining pirates.

Phillips was rescued and returned home to Vermont on Friday to a hero’s welcome.

One of the issues surrounding Muse’s capture and the unusual decision to try him in the US courts is his age. — AFP.

'Teenage pirate' to face US court

A Somali teenager captured by the US during the rescue of an American sea captain from pirates is due to appear in a federal court in New York.

Abde Wale Abdul Kadhir Muse will be the first person to face piracy charges in the US in over a century, US media reports say.

He was held over the seizure of Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips off Somalia and flown to the US on Monday.

Earlier, his mother appealed to US President Barack Obama to free him.

Adar Abdurahman Hassan told the BBC her son was innocent and just 16 years old.

In other developments:

• Somali pirates have freed a chemical tanker and its crew of 23 Filipinos after holding them for five months

• The Philippine government has banned its sailors from working on ships that might travel through the Gulf of Aden, where the Somali pirates operate

Mother's plea

The teenager is accused of being a member of the pirate gang which boarded the Maersk Alabama container ship on 8 April and took Capt Phillips hostage in a lifeboat.

The stand-off ended on the fifth day when US Navy marksmen killed three of the pirates while Abde Wale Abdul Kadhir Muse was aboard a US warship allegedly demanding a ransom.

The teenage suspect arrived in the US late on Monday, under heavy guard.

On Monday his mother said she wanted to be present in court if the case went ahead.

She said her son had been missing for two weeks prior to the hijacking and she only realised he had been implicated when she heard his name in a radio report.

She told the BBC's Somali service: "I am requesting the American government, I am requesting President Obama to release my child. He has got nothing to do with the pirates' crime.

"He is a minor. He is under-age and he has been used for this crime. I also request from the US, if they choose to put him on trial, I want them to invite me there."

On Sunday, the internationally-recognised but fragile Somali government said captured pirates could face the death penalty.

But the Horn of Africa nation has been without an effective administration since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness which has allowed piracy to thrive.

Shipping companies last year handed over about $80m (£54m) in ransom payments to the gangs.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/04/21 11:35:29 GMT

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