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May 18, 2010

Maersk Alabama pirate pleads guilty

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the Somali pirate who led the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama container ship in the Indian Ocean, pleaded guilty today in Manhattan federal court to two felony counts of hijacking maritime vessels, two felony counts of kidnapping, and two felony counts of hostage taking.

Muse's guilty plea arose from his participation in the April 8, 2009, hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, and the subsequent taking of the captain of the ship as a hostage, as well as his participation in the hijacking of two other vessels in late March and early April of 2009 and related hostage-taking, announced Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

According to the superseding indictment to which Muse pleaded guilty, the criminal complaint previously filed against Muse on April 21, 2009, and statements made today during the guilty plea proceeding before U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska:

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.

While on board Ship-1, Muse pointed a gun at one of the Ship-1 hostages and threatened to kill him. In addition, Muse 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 it would explode and the hostage would be killed.

In April 2009, Muse and others left Ship-1 on a small boat (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. Beginning on or about April 2009, 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.

In April 2009, Muse and three other pirates 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 the Maersk Alabama, 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 United States 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 United States 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 U.S. Navy.

Muse is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Preska on October 19, 2010.

He is likely to receive a somewhat more lenient treatment than six of the 12 Somali pirates sentenced by Judge Muhsen Alwan in Sa'ana, Yemen today.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "Today, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse admitted his leadership role in the armed hijacking of an American-flagged vessel and two international ships in the Indian Ocean. The five-day Maersk hijacking and the events leading up to it make clear that modern-day piracy is a crime against the international community and a form of terrorism on the high seas. Pirates who attack U.S. ships overseas and take American hostages should know that they will face stiff justice in an American courtroom. I would like to recognize the extraordinary collective efforts of local, federal, and international law enforcement and pay special thanks to the men and women of the U.S. Navy without whose bravery today's result would not have been possible."

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