The bold and brazen pirate who led the 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.
The piracy count Muse is facing for his attacks on the Maersk Alabama carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.
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.
As prosecutors and defense attorneys debated Muse's age during Tuesday's court session, the Somali suspect broke down in tears and buried his head in his hand.
Muse is up against five counts, including piracy under the law of nations, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, discharging a firearm during seizing a ship, conspiracy to take hostages and brandishing a firearm during hostage-taking.
Unsealed FBI documents revealed Muse was the first to board the boat and fire at Captain Richard Phillips.
Crew member ATM "Zahid" Reza Tuesday confirmed the FBI complaint, saying that Muse was the leader of the pirate band that came aboard the Alabama. Reza described him as a lover of the United States who delighted in taking the ship's American crew hostage.
"When I first saw him, he carried himself as the leader. He was asking for directions, how to start (the) engine, and asking for all the crew," Reza said.
"He was surprised he was on a U.S. ship. He kept asking, 'You all come from America?' Then he claps and cheers and smiles. He caught himself a big fish. He can't believe it," Reza said.
Reza said he was filled with "hate" toward Muse and could barely stand to look at his captor's face.
"I could have died," Reza said.
Peck ordered Muse's hearing closed to the public due to concerns about Muse's age. Muse was asked if he understood that federal defenders had been assigned to his case because he said he had no financial resources.
"I understand. I don't have any money," Muse said through an interpreter. He cried, sobs echoing through the courtroom, when his attorneys mentioned contacting his family in Somalia.
Muse arrived in New York on Monday evening, handcuffed with a chain wrapped around his waist and about a dozen federal agents in tow. His left hand was heavily bandaged from the wound he suffered during the skirmish on the Alabama, and prison clothes draped loosely around Muse's thin 5-foot-2 frame.
Muse's parents painted a picture of the boy as a quiet student who liked to watch movies and had been corrupted by the renegade band of pirates he attacked the Alabama with.
He "was wise beyond his years," Muse's mother, Adar Abdirahman Hassan, told MSNBC.
"He was brainwashed. People who are older than him outwitted him, people who are older than him duped him," Hassan said.
Hassan pleaded with authorities to let her boy go - even begging President Barack Obama to pardon the young pirate.
"I am requesting the American government, I am requesting President Obama to release my child. He has got nothing to do with the pirates' crime," she told the BBC.
Defense lawyer Deirdre von Dornum said Muse was "extremely young, injured and terrified."
Their family is penniless, Hassan and Muse's father said. Hassan makes about $6 an hour, selling milk at a small market.
Muse's real age is still in question and could be determined with examination of his dental records.
The suspect is facing what is believed to be the first piracy charges in the United States in more than a century, Chicago lawyer and piracy expert Michael Passman told The New York Daily News.
Piracy is one of the only crimes for which there is universal jurisdiction, meaning that any country that captures a pirate can seek to prosecute them under that nation's piracy laws. In the United States, criminal prosecution of piracy is authorized in the Constitution.
The suspect told the Maersk Alabama's navigation officer that he'd always dreamed of coming to the United States.
"I said, 'Yeah, you're probably going to go anyway -- I don't think you're going to need my help,' " the officer, Ken Quinn, told CNN Radio.