By Abdiqani Hassan
GALKAYO, Somalia (Reuters) - The mother of a teenager facing trial in the United States for piracy off Somalia wants President Barack Obama to pardon her son because he was misled into joining a sea gang.
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse was captured by U.S. forces when they rescued an American sea captain being held hostage by pirates. Three of Muse's comrades were killed in the operation.
"My son was influenced by other gangs. He only got into piracy 15 days before he was captured. He is very young and didn't know what he was doing is a crime," said Adar Abdirahman Hassan.
"I am appealing the United States and President Obama to release my son," the mother said, adding that Muse is only 16.
Muse's father said he was 15, according to Muse's New York lawyer, but a U.S. magistrate agreed with prosecutors that he was 18 and ruled he can be tried as an adult.
But Mohamed Saed, a former classmate of Muse's, said the young man had always wanted to join the buccaneers.
"He used to talk about ransoms paid all the time, and he was encouraged by the big shares the pirates receive," Saed said.
U.S. prosecutors say Muse "conducted himself as the leader of the pirates," and have charged him with piracy, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, conspiracy to commit hostage taking and related firearms offenses. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
But Somalis say their society is highly hierarchical and a youth like Muse would not have led much older men than himself.
One of the pirates slain in the U.S. raid was 34-year-old Ali Aden Elmi. His widow told Reuters that she stopped taking his money when she realized its source.
"He was very afraid to tell people that he received ransom shares," Fadumo Osman said. "I stopped taking his money and decided to survive separately. It is dirty money and I could not feed my children on food that he bought with illicit money."
Elmi's gang had briefly seized the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama earlier in April. Its captain, Richard Phillips, apparently volunteered to get into a lifeboat with the pirates to act as a hostage and secure the safety of his 20 American crew members, who managed to retake control of their ship.
Phillips later tried to escape by jumping into the sea and swimming toward a U.S. warship but his captors hauled him back.
The U.S. Navy freed Phillips, 53, killed three of his captors, including Elmi, and arrested Muse.
A widow of one of the other slain men said she had no idea her husband was involved in any crime.
"He told me he was going fishing. He did not show signs of being a pirate. I was very shocked to hear that my husband was surrounded by Americans," said Hamdi Jamac, a mother of three.
"I want his remains because my children cannot believe their father was killed at sea. I want compensation for this killing as my children are desperate and have no one that can help."
Jamac's mother-in-law also wants the body of her 29-year-old son and compensation for his death.
"Killing our sons was not the right decision. The U.S. has to pay the price for what they have done to us. There was another peaceful way of solving the crisis, that would save both the captive and our children," Mulaho Mohamud said.
(Additional reporting by Abdiaziz Hassan; Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Giles Elgood)