A Somali accused of leading a group of pirates last year in hijacking a U.S.-flagged ship off the Horn of Africa was charged on Tuesday with attacking two other vessels.
A Somali accused of leading a group of pirates last year in hijacking a U.S.-flagged ship off the Horn of Africa was charged on Tuesday with attacking two other vessels, one of which is still being held hostage.
The superseding indictment filed by the Justice Department in Manhattan federal court alleges that Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse hijacked a ship traveling the Indian Ocean in March 2009. He and his accomplices held the captain and crew of the vessel hostage, during which time he threatened one of the hostages with an improvised explosive device (IED).
Muse and his associates allegedly used the ship to take control of another vessel in April 2009.
The Justice Department has not identified the two ships.
According to prosecutors, the pirates hijacked a second ship traversing the Indian Ocean. Muse and his associates are believed to have ordered the captain of the first vessel to pull up to the second ship. The pirates subsequently transferred hostages of the first vessel to the second ship, which they allegedly used to board the Maersk Alabama the same month.
The Maersk Alabama was on its way to deliver aid to Mombasa on April 8 when it was taken by four Somalis. The pirates later released all crew members but kept the captain, Richard Phillips, hostage for four days in an 18-foot lifeboat. The drama ended when three of the pirates were killed by U.S. Navy SEAL snipers aboard a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, and the remaining one, Muse, was captured and charged with a 10-count indictment in New York last May. The first indictments against Muse include piracy and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking as well as five other counts. The first charge already carries and mandatory term of life imprisonment.
The superseding indictment against him charges him with 10 counts, including piracy, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit a hostage-taking. All the new charges except two carry a maximum or mandatory penalty of life in prison.
Prosecutors say Muse had acted as the leader of the pirates that boarded the Maersk 300 miles off Somalia's coast on April 8. The ship had a 20-man American crew including the captain, and was on its way to deliver food aid to Mombasa, Kenya.
Muse had allegedly negotiated with the U.S. military while his associates held Phillips hostage. He had requested permission to board the USS Bainbridge and he was allowed to do so on April 12 to demand safe passage from the area in return for releasing the captain.
Prosecutors believe Muse is over 18 years old, refuting statements by the Somali's mother that her son is a minor.
Piracy off Somalia's coast and the Gulf of Aden has become a worldwide concern, and the United States is leading an international task force to counter it. Apart from the Combined Task Force 151 composed of several navies, NATO has a battle group in the region, where poverty and political instability have forced many to resort to hijacking ships.