NAIROBI, Kenya -- The mother of a captured Somali pirate accused of holding a U.S. captain hostage at sea for five days says he is only 16 years old and appealed Monday to President Obama to release her son.
The suspect, identified by his mother as Abdi Wali Abdulqadir Muse, 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.
"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 from her home in Galka'yo, 465 miles north of Somalia's capital.
Abdiwahab Mahmud Gurey, the chief of the Omar Mohamud clan who also lives in Galka'yo, confirmed that the woman was Muse's mother.
"As a clan elder, I urge the president of America to release this teenager who was tricked into joining pirates," said Gurey, who belongs to the same larger Majerten clan as Muse.
The U.S. officials said Muse will be brought to New York to face trial, in part because the FBI office there has a history of handling cases in Africa involving major crimes against Americans, such as the al-Qaida bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said all four of the pirates involved in the botched hijacking of the Maersk Alabama ship were between ages 17 and 19.
But the mother said her son was only 16 years old when he was seized, something that would compel federal prosecutors to take a number of additional steps to justify charging him in federal court.
Authorities say the scrawny young man was among the four gunmen who stormed the Alabama but were overpowered by its sailors. A sailor attacked Muse, stabbed him in the hand and tied him up before his colleagues agreed to free him in exchange for their captain who offered himself as hostage to safeguard his men.
Phillips, 53, thwarted the takeover of the 17,000-ton Alabama by telling his 19 crew members to lock themselves in a room.
Though no charges have been publicly filed against Muse yet, he could face charges that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
U.S. authorities have been examining details of the case, particularly Muse's age, and his mother said she was happy to have her son alive in the hands of the U.S.
"I was delighted when I heard that my son is in the hands of the Americans because I know America has huge respect for human rights," said the single mother, who said she is the only breadwinner of her family of five.
Hassan rejected that poverty was the reason that drove her son to piracy, saying he was coaxed into it by "gangsters with money."
"There is no sensible reason that makes him join pirates," she said. "I loved him so much and I cared about him. He had his three meals a day. We were not rich but we were not begging for alms either."
Hassan said her eldest son's absence has disrupted her life, forcing relatives to take care of her children because she could not concentrate on her business of selling milk.
"I sometimes find myself weeping. The absence of my eldest son brings tears to my eyes," she said. "You know the feelings of a mother, it is even stronger than that of a father. When I sleep I wake up shocked and start praying until I cool down. I hope President Obama will hear my plea and let my dear son go."