After a month in solitary confinement, alleged pirate Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse had his day in court Thursday – a brief arraignment at which he pled not guilty to federal charges of participating in the attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia in April.
Looking frail and downcast, Muse, wearing a dark colored smock and trousers over his orange prison garb, stood and made his plea through a translator before U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan's federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street – just across from the federal correctional facility where he has been held since he was flown to New York and transferred from U.S. Navy custody to the FBI on April 20th.
Following the hearing Muse's lawyers said that when all the evidence was presented their client would be exonerated.
"We believe that Mr. Muse will be exonerated," said Federal Public Defender Deirdre von Durnum.
Standing outside the courthouse, Federal Public Defender Fiona Doherty reminded reporters that in its complaint the government noted that Muse had separated himself from the other hijackers of the U.S. flagged Maersk Alabama and attempted to negotiate a solution to the five day standoff during which the ship's captain was held hostage by Muse's cohort.
"Our client was the one trying to find a peaceful resolution," she said.
Muse – whose age is unknown but who is believed by both the government and defense to be a teenager -- was indicted earlier this week 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. If convicted of the most serious charge, he faces a mandatory life sentence. The next scheduled court appearance is September 17th.
Somalia's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Idd Beddel Mohamed, said that his nation did not want to politicize the case and he would not comment on whether it was better to have Muse on trial in the US or in Somalia.
He said that he had confidence in the U.S. legal system, its transparency, and the independence of the defense team representing Muse.
"We want to send our sympathies to the families of the captain and his team," he said. But he also expressed his nation's sympathy for Muse's mother. "She is also a mother" and one whose son is "facing very serious issues."
In jail, Muse has been allowed to keep a Koran with him and there is a clock just outside his cell to guide his prayer times, according to his attorney.
"He has been denied any human contact either by phone or in person except for his attorneys," one of his attorneys, Philip Weinstein said. "Basically he sits in a room 24 hours a day (aside from medical care, showers, attorney visits) he has nothing to do expect look at the walls and pray."
While inmates are routinely segregated for two weeks or so while they undergo a battery of intake tests and examinations including ones to assure the inmate is not suicidal, or suffering from a mental illness, Muse's segregation has been extended for any number of possible reasons -- including concern for his safety, and inability to complete intake procedures due to the difficulty with locating an approved translator. The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not return two calls to discuss those issues.