MOGADISHU, Somalia – At home in central Somalia, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse studied English, frequented a dusty, outdoor cinema after school where he watched Bollywood films dubbed into his native Somali and, his mother says, "was wise beyond his years."
The neighborhood where he grew up in the central Somali town of Galkayo is one of small homes with corrugated iron roofs, and no running water or electricity.
Now Muse — the sole surviving Somali pirate from the hostage-taking of an American ship captain — is a world away in New York City to face what are believed to be the first piracy charges in the United States in more than a century. He smiled but said nothing Tuesday as he was led into a federal building under heavy guard.
"The last time I saw him he was in his school uniform," the teen's mother, Adar Abdirahman Hassan, 40, told The Associated Press by telephone Tuesday from her home in Galkayo. "He was brainwashed. People who are older than him outwitted him, people who are older than him duped him."
She said he was "wise beyond his years" — a child who ignored other boys his age who tried to tease him and got lost in books instead.
"He took all his books the day he disappeared, except one, I think, and did not come back," she said, adding that she did not know which book he was reading — Hassan is illiterate.
Click to view photos
Muse's personal details are murky, with his parents in Somalia insisting he was tricked into getting involved in piracy. His age also remained unclear. His parents said he is only 16, but U.S. law enforcement said he is at least 18, meaning prosecutors will not have to take extra legal steps to try him in a U.S. court.
Muse's mother said she has no records to prove his age, but she and the teen's father say he is 16. "I never delivered my babies in a hospital," she said. "A traditional midwife helped me deliver."
A classmate, however, said he believed Muse could be older — and that he studied English at school.
"I think he was one or two years older than me, and I am 16," said Abdisalan Muse, reached by telephone in Galkayo. "We did not know him to be a pirate, but he was always with older boys, who are likely to be the ones who corrupted him."
It is rare for Somalis to have formal birth records, and U.S. officials did not say on what basis they believe him to be 18 or older.
The teenager was flown from Africa to New York, where he was being charged under two obscure federal laws that deal with piracy and hostage-taking, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.
Muse grew up poor in a one-room home, the eldest child of a divorced mother, in one of the most impoverished, violent countries in the world. A nation of around 8 million people, Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. A quarter of Somali children die before age 5 and nearly every public institution has collapsed.
Muse's mother sells milk at a small market every day, saving around $6 every month for school fees for her oldest son. She pays 15 dollars a month in rent.
"I cried when I saw the picture of him," Hassan said, referring to the photo of her son being led in handcuffs in New York. "Relatives brought a copy of the picture to me. Surely he is telling himself now, 'My mother's heart is broken."'
She said the last time she saw her son in person, she was pushing him out the door so he would not be late for school.
Since that day weeks ago, he simply disappeared. Asked why she believed he left, Hassan was at a loss.
"A young man, at his age, could say he needed money, perhaps," she said. "I used to give him his school fee because I could not afford more than that. But of course he needed money."
The boy's father, Abdiqadir Muse, said the pirates lied to his son, telling him they were going to get money. The family is penniless, he said.
"He just went with them without knowing what he was getting into," Muse said in a separate telephone interview with the AP through an interpreter.
He also said it was his son's first outing with the pirates after having been taken from his home about a week and a half before he surrendered at sea to U.S. officials.