NEW YORK — Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse has admitted he's a modern-day pirate. The U.S. government says he also had an old-school sadistic streak.
While terrorizing merchant ships on the Indian Ocean, Muse regularly aimed "his gun at the head of a hostage and pulled the trigger, laughing when the gun did not fire," federal prosecutors wrote in court papers. "Muse derived joy from the suffering of victims."
The prosecutors argued Muse's ruthlessness is one reason he should get nearly 34 years at sentencing Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom. Defense attorneys have countered in their court papers that their client, who's from Somalia, is an impoverished and naive young man whose crimes were born of desperation.
"The temptations of piracy were overwhelming for (Muse)," they said in seeking the 27-year minimum sentence. "He had so little to lose."
Muse's involvement in a brazen high-seas attack on a U.S.-flagged vessel and the dramatic rescue of the ship's kidnapped captain in 2009 made him an instant symbol of a 21st-century brand of piracy targeting shipping routes off the coast of Africa — and of stepped-up efforts to punish offenders through 19th-century maritime laws.
Late last year, a Virginia jury found five other Somali men guilty of exchanging gunfire with a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Africa. Scholars called it the first piracy case to go to trial since 1861 during the Civil War, when a New York jury deadlocked on charges against 13 Southern privateers.
Aside from the novelty of his case, Muse became a curiosity because he defied swashbuckler stereotypes: The boyish, 5-foot-2 defendant has often looked bewildered in court and sometimes wept. Following his capture, his lawyers insisted he was 15 and should be tried as a juvenile; prosecutors convinced a judge he was at least 18.