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Twin Cities Somali advocate helping accused pirate

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • April 21, 2009 - 10:41 PM

A Twin Cities Somali community activist said he has been involved in ensuring that an accused pirate is treated justly while in federal custody in New York.

Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, said he spoke Monday with the parents of Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, the sole surviving Somali pirate from the hostage-taking of an American ship captain. He said he's also been consulting with the defendant's attorneys by phone.

Jamal said he intended to be in court with Muse and carrying a letter from his parents in Somalia explaining that Jamal had permission to arrange for Muse's defense. Jamal said he was moments away from flying to New York, when Muse's public defender called to say that his presence wouldn't be necessary.

"We need him to get any benefits of this judicial system," Jamal said this morning, before aborting his trip east. "Our primary concern is that the family doesn't lose their mind."

Jamal said the parents reached out to his organization because his group has been involved in negotiations regarding a Nigerian ship taken by pirates. That ship's captain, Jamal says, has a brother who lives in the St. Paul area.

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 on Monday.

In court, a federal judge determined that Muse is an adult. Muse's age has been reported to be 15 or 18. U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck closed the hearing for a time for fear that Muse is a juvenile. He later allowed reporters back in and told them he had decided Muse wasn't under 18.

The teenager's arrival came on the same day that his mother appealed to President Obama for his release. She says her son was coaxed into piracy by "gangsters with money."

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 off the Somali coast.

U.S. officials said the teenager was 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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