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Somali Pirate on Trial in US Court
12 May 2009

When   Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse led a pirates gang of three to attack and control an American Ship Maersk Alabama, demanding a ransom of $2 million, little did he know that he was nearing the evening of his involvement in acts of piracy.

He climbed aboard the ship very authoritative, held the crew at gun point, demanded a ransom, ordered one of the crew members to guide him canvass the ship's interior.  It was this crewmember who tricked him to leave his gun with his friends in crime, urging that others on board the ship would be too frightened to surrender if he appeared to them armed.

In a passage way, was a crewmember in hiding who seized the opportunity of wrestling down the now unarmed pirate to the ground. With the help of other members of the crew the pirate was tied with a wire and kept in a safe room.

His accomplices did not come to his rescue. When his captors allowed him to reunite with other captors, he opted to remain with the Navy to seek treatment for the injuries sustained in the scuffles he was involved in with the crew, marking the beginning of his journey to a US Court for trial.

The New York Times reported that Muse speaks no English, is uncertain about his age and is the only survivor of the four pirates gang that attacked the American Ship.

The three other pirates involved in this attack were killed by the Navy Seal Snipers in a rescue mission for Capt Richard Philips whom they held hostage for at least five days in a life boat after his daring attempted escape.

The suspected pirate's parents told court, via telephone, that their son was born on 20th November 1993 making him 15 years old and a juvenile who required the privacy afforded to juveniles. They also pleaded that their son was a nomad who reared goats, and was tricked and lured into piracy.

However FBI investigators informed the court that Muse gave different ages throughout the investigations ranging   between 18-20 years. The trial judge found Muse's parents' evidence regarding their sons age 'incredible', and ordered that Muse was an adult and that his conduct throughout the attack on the American cargo ship was in material conflict with allegations of his having been tricked and lured into piracy as asserted by his parents.

A smiling, but bandaged and handcuffed Muse with a chain on his waist appeared in the Federal Court house in Lower Manhattan charged with five counts, the most serious of all being that of the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations.

He is reportedly the first person to be tried in the US on piracy in more than a century. He is being prosecuted under a federal law that has been on the shelves for more than a century and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if found guilty.

After the first court appearance the Judge ordered his detention without bail. Meanwhile, New York civil rights lawyers have questioned the legality of his being in American custody rather than in Kenya which has an international agreement to prosecute terrorists, and whether his prosecution is lawful given the uncertainties surrounding his age.

Civil rights lawyers have further argued that there is a grave concern as to whether America was in violation of the principles of truce in warfare on high seas, in that this man seemed to have come on the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate, then he was captured.

Talk of justice; civil rights lawyers are already pushing for the setting up of a legal team for his defense.

In what appears to be a mockery of justice, the suspected pirate's mother has appealed to President Obama to release him arguing her son is innocent. His father is bitter that the US killed three Somalis to rescue one American as if the life of Americans is more precious than that of Somalis.

Analysts have said that this would serve as a deterrent to other pirates who have continued to harass ships and cause havoc on the Somali coast. Just last week 14 other Somali suspected pirates were captured in separate operations by the French military and the Seychelles coast guard.

The pirates who mistook the French Military Vessel for a cargo ship, rushed to capture it but were cornered and arrested.

It is not clear whether they too will be sent for trial to Kenya, Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland or France.

Samuel Sserwanga is a Senior Legal Analyst at IGAD Counter-Terrorism Programme, Addis Ababa

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