Suspect in ship hijacking charged with piracy

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse arrived in the United States on April 21.
A Somali suspect in the hijacking of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama last month has been indicted on 10 counts including piracy, hostage-taking and firearms charges, officials said Tuesday.

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse faces life in prison if convicted of eight of the 10 counts, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said. The U.S. Navy took Muse into custody April 12 after the hijacking in the Indian Ocean. He arrived in the United States on April 21. Muse “conducted himself as the leader” of the pirates who took over the Maersk Alabama, according to the criminal complaint released last month. U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck ruled that Muse is older than 18 and can be tried as an adult. There had been questions about his age, with Muse’s father in Somalia telling defense attorneys that his son was only 15. The indictment charges Muse with eight counts that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. They are piracy, possession of a machine gun while seizing a ship by force, hostage-taking, conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, possession of a machine gun during hostage-taking, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and possession of a machine gun during kidnapping. The remaining two charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars: seizing a ship by force and conspiracy to seize a ship by force.

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Criminal complaint (U.S. v. Muse)

Muse’s arraignment is scheduled for Thursday, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship, April 8 about 350 miles off the Somali coast, according to the criminal complaint. See timeline of events that led to piracy case ยป They boarded the ship after firing shots, according to crew members quoted in the complaint. Muse was carrying a gun and was the first alleged pirate on the ship, the complaint said. According to the complaint, Muse had fired his gun at the Maersk’s captain, Richard Phillips, and then took $30,000 from the ship’s safe after he forced Phillips to open it. A Maersk crew member managed to tackle Muse and tie his hands, leading to a deal with the pirates: They would leave the ship if Muse was returned to them and if they got a life boat, the complaint said. Phillips boarded the life boat with them, and the ship’s crew freed Muse, who then boarded the life boat, according to the criminal complaint.

Over the next three days, the life boat floated near the Maersk with the U.S. Navy’s USS Bainbridge nearby. On April 12, Muse boarded the USS Bainbridge and demanded safe passage for himself and the other pirates in exchange for Phillips’ release. But while he was aboard, Navy SEALs shot and killed the three remaining pirates and freed Phillips.