A Somali pirate asked for forgiveness from his victims and from the U.S. government in a New York courtroom today, but instead received nearly the maximum sentence allowed -- nearly 34 years in prison.
Abduwali Abdiqadir Muse pled guilty last year to being part of an armed crew that stormed the Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean in April 2009 and took its captain, Richard Phillips, hostage for five days.
At his sentencing Wednesday morning, Muse, clad in a green shirt and khaki slacks, apologized at length for his career as a pirate. "I ask for forgiveness from all the people I harmed, including the U.S. government," said Muse.
In a letter to the court, however, Capt. Phillips called Muse a "terrorist," said he had endured mock killings at the hands of the pirates, and asked for justice and a "proper sentence" on behalf of "all Merchant Mariners."
"My family had to endure the five days, worrying and wondering what was going to happen," wrote Phillips. "He was just as much a terrorist to them as to me."
Prior to announcing the sentence, Judge Preska read aloud from Phillips' letter and from letters written by other members of the crew about how the hijacking had affected them. Preska teared up and removed her glasses and then gave Muse the maximum permitted sentence, 33 years and nine months, citing the need for deterrence.
"For five days that must have seemed like an eternity to this victims, Abduwali Abukhadir Muse terrorized the crew of the Maersk Alabama," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement after the sentencing. "Now he will pay for those five days and the events leading up to them."
Muse Stabbed During Maersk Alabama Hijacking
Muse and three other men stormed the Maersk Alabama, a 500-foot U.S.-flagged container ship, on April 8, 2009. After he and the other would-be pirates boarded the vessel, Muse was stabbed in the hand by a member of the 20-man crew during a struggle, and was then tied up by the crew.
Unable to take control of the massive ship, the remaining three pirates grabbed Phillips and put to sea in a lifeboat. The Maersk Alabama's crew tried to trade Muse for Phillips but were rebuffed by the pirates.
Prosecutors said that Muse was the first pirate to board the Maersk Alabama, fired an AK-47 at Phillips, and speaking English, threatened Phillips with death.
On April 12, 2009, Navy Seal snipers shot and killed the three pirates in the lifeboat with Phillips and rescued Phillips. Muse was brought to United States to stand trial on charges of piracy.
Muse, whose exact age is unknown but was determined by a U.S. judge to be over 18, was indicted on 10 counts, including piracy under the law of nations, conspiracy, hostage taking, kidnapping and possession of a machine gun while seizing a ship by force. In addition to the Maersk Alabama attack, he was charged in connection with two other attacks on ships off Somalia in March and April 2009.
Muse pled guilty to six felony counts of kidnapping, hostage-taking and hijacking maritime vessels in May 2010, more than a year after his capture.