The mother of the Somali piracy suspect being held for trial in the United States is appealing for mercy for her son. She says he did not know what he was doing when he and three other men boarded a U.S.-flagged ship earlier this month and took the ship's captain hostage. But that opinion contrasts sharply with the description outlined by U.S. investigators and the now freed captain, who say the alleged pirate was the ringleader of the operation.
From the central Somali town of Galkayo, the mother of the alleged pirate, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, appealed to President Barack Obama to release her son, whom she described as a "talented boy" and "a good student."
Adar Abdirahman Hassan, who has four other children, tells VOA that the family is dirt poor. She says she believes Muse was tricked into becoming a pirate by men who falsely promised him money.
She says her oldest boy is only 16 years old and impressionable.
Hassan says her son was doing well at school and had even hoped to study in the United States someday. But late last month, Muse failed to come home from school. She says 15 days after he disappeared, she heard on the radio that her son had been captured by the Americans as a suspected pirate.
Hassan says it breaks her heart to think that he will be tried as an adult criminal in the United States.
U.S. prosecutors say Muse is the sole survivor of a hijacking attempt on a U.S.-flagged ship off the coast of Somalia on April 8. The capture of the Maersk Alabama made news around the world after the pirates let the ship and its 20 crew members go, but took the ship's captain hostage in an enclosed lifeboat.
Four days later, U.S. Navy snipers killed three of the hijackers and rescued the captain, Richard Phillips.
Muse was subsequently flown from the Horn of Africa to New York, where he was charged Tuesday with five counts, including piracy.
In a criminal complaint filed by a Federal Bureau of Investigations agent, Captain Phillips describes Muse much differently than the naïve, young boy his mother portrays him to be.
Phillips told the FBI agent that Muse was the first to board his ship and, in his words, "conducted himself as the leader of the pirates" Phillips said while the pirates held him hostage aboard the lifeboat, Muse told him he had hijacked other ships before.
A New York federal court judge has ruled that Muse is at least 18 years-old and can be tried as an adult. But his mother's claim that he is a 16-year-old juvenile could pose a problem for prosecutors seeking the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. International law is more lenient toward juveniles.
Determining Muse's true age is difficult because birth certificates are rare in Somalia, a country which has not had a functioning government for nearly two decades.