NEW YORK - The sole survivor of a pirate attack on an American cargo ship off the Somali coast was charged as an adult Tuesday with piracy after a prosecutor said he gave wildly varying ages for himself but finally admitted he was 18.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck said Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse could be treated as an adult in U.S. courts after a closed hearing during which he said Muse's father gave conflicting testimony about the ages of his children.
Muse was charged with several counts, including piracy under the law of nations. That charge carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.
Peck noted that Muse had declined to testify in court about his age.
Muse sobbed early in the hearing when his attorneys mentioned they had contacted his family in Somalia. The judge closed the hearing for testimony about Muse's age and decide whether he was a juvenile. After he reopened the courtroom, he had lawyers on each side recount what happened.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire said Muse initially told a Somali interpreter on April 12, when he was first detained, that he was 16, then that he was 19, then that he was 26.
Muse indicated a day later on a different U.S. Navy vessel that he was 19, McGuire said. The prosecutor said Muse told an FBI agent Monday that his age was 15 but later apologized to the agent for lying, telling him he was 18, going on 19.
McGuire said investigators also spoke to one of Muse's brothers, who indicated he was 18.
Muse is the sole surviving Somali pirate from the hostage-taking of an American ship captain from Vermont.
He arrived in New York on Monday evening, handcuffed with a chain wrapped around his waist and about a dozen federal agents surrounding him.
His left hand is heavily bandaged from a wound he suffered during the skirmish on the cargo ship, the Norfolk, Va.-based Maersk Alabama. Muse, his 5-foot-2 frame so slight that his prison clothes draped loosely, at one point put his head in his uninjured hand.
Muse arrived in New York on Monday night and smiled as he was led into a government building.
In addition to piracy, he was charged with conspiracy to seize a ship by force; discharging a firearm; aiding and abetting the discharge of a firearm during a conspiracy to seize a ship by force; conspiracy to commit hostage taking; and brandishing a firearm.