The sole surviving Somali pirate from the hostage-taking of an American ship captain wept in federal court Tuesday as he faced the charges against him.
A federal judge determined that the suspect, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, is an adult and reopened the New York City hearing to the public.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck had closed proceedings briefly to figure out whether Muse was a juvenile.
Muse cried in court as the charges of piracy — which carries a mandatory life sentence — and other counts against him were read. A day earlier, he'd been all smiles when he arrived in New York.
The teenager is the only Somali pirate to survive the seige on the U.S. cargo ship, which ended in a standoff with the Navy that left the other pirates dead.
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Muse was handcuffed and had a chain wrapped around his waist when he got to New York City on Monday, smiling for a gaggle of cameras and reporters.
His left hand was heavily bandaged from the wound he suffered during the skirmish on the ship two weeks ago.
The grinning teenager seemed poised as he entered a federal building in a rainstorm Monday, but he didn't say anything in response to reporters' shouted questions about whether he had any comment about the pirate episode.
Muse is the first person to be tried in the United States on piracy charges in more than a century. He was flown from Africa to a New York airport and taken into custody ahead of a court hearing Tuesday.
The age and real name of the young pirate remained unclear. The mother said he is only 16 years old and is named Abdi Wali Abdulqadir Muse.
The law enforcement official says he is at least 18, meaning prosecutors will not have to take extra legal steps to put him on trial in a U.S. court.
A law enforcement official familiar with the case said that the teenager was being charged under two obscure federal laws that deal with piracy and hostage-taking. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.
The teenager's arrival came on the same day that his mother appealed to President Barack Obama for his release. She says her son was coaxed into piracy by "gangsters with money."
"I appeal to President Obama to pardon my teenager; I request him to release my son or at least allow me to see him and be with him during the trial," Adar Abdirahman Hassan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her home in Galka'yo town in Somalia.
The suspect was taken aboard a U.S. Navy ship shortly before Navy SEAL snipers killed three of his colleagues who had held Capt. Richard Phillips hostage.
The U.S. officials said the teenager was brought to New York to face trial in part because the FBI office here has a history of handling cases in Africa involving major crimes against Americans, such as the Al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.
Ron Kuby, a New York-based civil rights lawyer, said he has been in discussions about forming a legal team to represent the Somalian.
"I think in this particular case, there's a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas," said Kuby.
"This man seemed to come onto the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.