NEW YORK — The prosecution of a Somali teenager accused of leading a pirate attack on an American cargo ship off the coast of Africa was taken off the fast track Thursday after a lawyer said more time will be needed to translate some Somali recordings into English.
Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he was brought after his arrest aboard the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama in April.
Authorities say Muse was the only surviving pirate of a group that he led in an attack off the coast of Africa on the cargo ship, which was carrying humanitarian supplies.
During a three-minute hearing before U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, Muse listened through earphones as a translator relayed the words of lawyers who reached agreement to delay further court proceedings in the case until Jan. 12.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz said some documents obtained by prosecutors to be turned over to the defense reflect statements made by Muse.
Philip Weinstein, a lawyer for Muse, said the defense was still waiting to receive more materials from prosecutors before telling the court what arguments it plans to make on behalf of Muse.
"There are a number of recordings in Somali. All of those have to be translated," Weinstein said.
Muse, wearing his prison blue uniform over a brown T-shirt, spoke quietly into a headset just before the court proceeding began to confirm to the translator that he could hear him. He smiled as he left the courtroom under guard. At a court appearance earlier this year, he wept.
Muse, who grew up destitute in Somalia, has pleaded not guilty to piracy, hostage-taking and other charges. If convicted of the most serious charge, Muse could face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
His lawyers have denied the government's claim that Muse is 18. His family has said Muse is as young as 15.
The FBI has said in court papers that Muse "conducted himself as the leader of the pirates" on April 8 when he boarded the Maersk Alabama 280 miles off the Somali coast.
It said he fired his AK-47 assault rifle at the captain, Richard Phillips before the captain was held for several days on an enclosed lifeboat as three U.S. warships and a helicopter camped out at the scene.
After Muse was taken aboard a U.S. Navy ship, Navy snipers shot three pirates as one of them held an AK-47 to Phillips' back on the lifeboat.
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