A Somali teenager whose role in the commandeering of an American cargo ship thrust him into the international spotlight has been indicted on multiple criminal charges, authorities said Tuesday.
Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse — the only pirate to survive the siege — has been jailed in Manhattan since he was captured on April 12 and flown to the United States to face what's believed to be the first U.S. piracy prosecution in more than a century.
He was expected to enter a plea later this week on charges of piracy, conspiracy, hostage-taking and brandishing a firearm on the high seas. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Branded as a ringleader
U.S. prosecutors have branded Muse the ringleader of a band of four pirates who provoked the deadly drama, while defense attorneys have insisted he's a bewildered teenager snatched from obscurity. He wept last month when his lawyers failed to convince a judge he was only 15 and should be tried as a juvenile.
His lawyers didn't immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Muse, 18, grew up destitute in Somalia, the oldest of 12 children and the product of a violent, lawless nation where piracy has flourished. On April 8, he teamed up with other young bandits who targeted the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, which is managed by Norfolk, Va.-based Maersk Line Ltd., as it transported humanitarian supplies about 280 miles off the Somali coast.
Standoff ended with shootings
An FBI criminal complaint said Muse was the first to board the boat, firing his AK-47 assault rifle at the captain, Richard Phillips. He entered the bridge, told the captain to stop the ship and "conducted himself as the leader of the pirates," according to the complaint.
The pirates held Phillips, of Underhill, Vt., hostage for several days on a sweltering, enclosed lifeboat that was soon shadowed by three U.S. warships and a helicopter.
The standoff ended when Navy snipers got the go-ahead to shoot three pirates after one held an AK-47 close to Phillips' back.