A Somali teenager has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in connection with the April 8 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast, including piracy, hijacking and kidnapping charges.
AFP - A Somali teenager caught by US forces in an operation to free an American merchant ship captain from pirates last month pleaded innocent to piracy, hijacking and kidnapping here Thursday.
The suspect, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, stands charged in a grand jury indictment with "piracy as defined by the law of nations" in the international waters of the Indian Ocean off Somalia.
It is the first time in more than a century that US courts have heard a case of piracy on the high seas.
But Muse denied any involvement in the April 8 hijacking off the Somali coast in a brief 15-minute appearance in a New York court, pleading innocent to 10 charges.
"We plead not guilty on all counts," his attorney, Phil Weinstein, told the court presided over by federal judge Loretta Preska. Muse's next hearing was set for September 17.
Muse has also been charged with offenses including armed hijacking and holding hostages for ransom.
Weinstein also protested the conditions in which his client is being held, saying "they are giving him medications that he doesn't understand," and adding Muse was "unable to communicate with anyone exept us, once or twice a week."
The teenager was captured last month at the end of a high-seas drama in which Navy Seals killed three Somalis holding hostage the captain of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama. Muse is the sole survivor of the pirate gang.
They had earlier attempted to take control of the US-flagged ship but retreated to a lifeboat with the captain, Richard Phillips.
Before the rescue operation, which freed Phillips unharmed, Muse had gone aboard the naval ship USS Bainbridge, apparently to negotiate.
A lawyer from the group which is defending Muse, Fiona Doherty, said their defense was based on the fact that Muse had voluntarily turned himself over to the US Navy.
"We think he will be exonerated. He was the one who requested permission to board the US ship. He was trying to negotiate for the safety of captain Phillips."
Thursday's hearing was also attended by Somalia's deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, Idd Mohamed.
"We want to send our sympathies to the family of the captain and his team. We are sorry about what happened," Mohamed said, adding his country had full confidence in the US justice system.
But Muse's defense team said they were still fighting to convince the New York court that their client was a minor.
"We have reasons to believe he is a juvenile and we are pursuing this," said Weinstein.
After being flown to New York from Somalia, Muse was charged on April 22 as an adult when judge Andrew Peck rejected a claim by his father that Muse was only 15 years old. Prosecutors said he was over 18.
He faces life in prison if found guilty.
Date created : 2009-05-22