Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Pirates: The Maersk Alabama

The Young Pirate

While his three associates had met a bloody end on the high seas, one pirate's fate remained up in the air.

Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse
Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse

A little over a week after the death of the rest of his pirate crewmates, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse arrived in New York and was charged with piracy and hostage-taking under two rarely used federal laws. Some experts say these antique laws may not be applicable to the Somalian pirate, given that the U.S. has no current treaties with the failed state.

Adar Abdirahman Hassan
Adar Abdirahman Hassan
Meanwhile, his mother, Adar Abdirahman Hassan, and his father, Abdiqadir Muse, both of Galkayo, Somalia, submitted to interviews with the international press. His mother begged President Obama to pardon her son. His father claimed that their son had been tricked by gangsters who promised the penniless youth easy cash.

Pirates in Somalia's coastal areas collected roughly $50 million in ransom money last year. Well-dressed thugs drive shiny Land Rovers through the broken streets of the failed state's sagging fishing villages, seducing young men from poor families like Muse's with the lure of fast money and violent glamour. Muse's parents said that the pirates had spirited their son away from home and out of school just a week before the botched hijacking.

Possibly more importantly, the couple claimed that their son is just 16, not the 18 years that federal official believe. This would greatly complicate bringing him to trial. Somalia's turbulent political and social situation means it could be extraordinarily difficult to confirm Muse's age. If he's only 16, he'd be granted greater protection under international law. No doubt a child pirate would get public sympathy, too.

As of April 21, 2009, a U.S. judge declared that Muse could be tried as an adult. Whatever his age, Muse's defense team may counter that he isn't lawfully under American custody anyway.

Minneapolis's Somali Justice Advocacy Center is currently helping the family wrestle with the complexities of the U.S. legal system.

The U.S. justice system will have to sort out whether Muse acted as a criminal, or whether he was a conscripted child soldier. Furthermore, they'll want to figure out what it's worth to have Muse cooperate, rather than to prosecute him fully. He may be able to provide investigators with valuable information on Somali piracy: who's involved, how the networks are organized, and where the money comes from and goes.

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