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January 12, 2010

New charges against Maersk Alabama pirate suspect

Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has announced the filing of a superseding indictment against Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the Somali taken into custody in the Maersk Alabama imcident.

Muse was previously indicted on May 19, 2009, for his alleged participation in the April 8, 2009, hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean, and the subsequent taking of the captain of the ship as a hostage.

The superseding indictment alleges that Muse and others hijacked two ships before the Maersk Alabama, the second of which is still being held hostage.

The new charges carry penalties ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment.

Muse was taken into custody by the U.S. Navy on April 12, 2009, while at sea in the Indian Ocean. On the same day, the U.S. Navy rescued the captain of the Maersk Alabama from a life boat in the Indian Ocean where he had been taken hostage by Muse and three other men. On April 20, 2009, Muse was transferred from the custody of the U.S. Navy to the FBI for transport to the Southern District of New York.

According to the superseding indictment and the criminal Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:

In March 2009, Muse, and others armed with firearms, boarded a ship (Ship-1) as it was navigating in the Indian Ocean. After boarding Ship-1, Muse and others threatened the captain of Ship-1 with a firearm; seized control of Ship-1; and held the captain and the crew of Ship-1 hostage on board Ship-1.

Furthermore, while on board Ship-1, Muse pointed a gun at one of the Ship-1 hostages and threatened to kill him. Muse also showed one of the hostages what appeared to be an improvised explosive device (IED). Muse placed the IED in the vicinity of the hostage, and indicated that if the authorities came the IED would explode and the hostage would be killed.

Then, in April 2009, Muse and others left Ship-1 on a small boat (the skiff). When the skiff returned to Ship-1, Ship-1 and the skiff were made to rendezvous with another ship (Ship-2) that was then navigating in the Indian Ocean. After Ship-1 and the skiff arrived in the vicinity of Ship-2, the captain of Ship-1 was ordered to pull Ship-1 up to Ship-2. Ship-1 was then attached to Ship-2. Muse and others held hostage, on board Ship-2, both the captain and the crew of Ship-1 and the captain and the crew of Ship-2. At the present time, the captain and the crew of Ship-2 continue to be held hostage on board Ship-2.

Muse and three other pirates later left Ship-2, and boarded the Maersk Alabama after shooting at the ship from their own boat. Each of the four pirates who boarded the Maersk Alabama, including Muse, was armed with a gun. Once on board, Muse, who conducted himself as the leader of the pirates, demanded, among other things, that the ship be stopped. Several hours after boarding the Maersk Alabama, the pirates took a life boat from the ship, on which they held the captain of the ship as a hostage.

Muse and the other three pirates then held the captain hostage on the life boat from April 8 to April 12, 2009. During this period, in radio communications between the pirates and the U.S. Navy, the pirates threatened to kill the captain if they were not provided with safe passage away from the scene. On April 12, 2009, Muse requested and was permitted to board the USS Bainbridge, a U.S. Navy missile destroyer that had arrived on the scene. On the USS Bainbridge, Muse continued to demand for himself and the other pirates safe passage from the scene in exchange for the captain's release. On April 12, 2009, Muse was taken into custody by the United States Navy.

"Piracy on the high seas is a threat against the community of nations. Today's indictment alleges criminal conduct that extends beyond the attack against the captain and crew of the American-flagged Maersk Alabama. Modern-day pirates who wreak havoc off faraway coasts will be met with modern-day justice in the United States. I am grateful to our international law enforcement counterparts for their assistance throughout this case, and I extend a special thanks to our partners in the armed services for their heroism and hard work," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He added that the investigation is continuing.

Mr. Bharara praised the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force -- which principally consists of agents of the FBI and detectives of the New York City Police Department -- and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for their extraordinary efforts in the investigation of this case. Mr. Bharara also thanked the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice, the Department of State, specifically the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, the FBI's Legal Attache Office in Nairobi, and the Department of Defense. Mr. Bharara also expressed his gratitude to the Government of Kenya and Maersk Line, Limited, for their cooperation and assistance.


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