Abduhl Wali-i-Musi was handcuffed and had a chain wrapped around his waist. His left hand was heavily bandaged from the wound he suffered during the skirmish on the ship two weeks ago.
The smiling teenager seemed poised as he entered a federal building in a rainstorm, but he didn't say anything in response to reporters' shouted questions about whether he had any comment about the pirate episode.
Wali-i-Musi 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 and taken into custody ahead of a court hearing Tuesday.
A law enforcement official familiar with the case said that the teenager was being charged under two obscure federal laws that deal with piracy and hostage-taking. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.
The teenager's arrival came on the same day that his mother appealed to President Barack Obama for his release. She says her son was coaxed into piracy by "gangsters with money."
"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 with The Associated Press from her home in Galka'yo town in Somalia.
The age and real name of the young pirate remained unclear. The mother said he is only 16 years old and is named Abdi Wali Abdulqadir Muse. The law enforcement official says he is at least 18, meaning prosecutors will not have to take extra legal steps to put him on trial in a U.S. court.
His worried family asked the Minneapolis-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center to help get him a lawyer, said the organization's executive director, Omar Jamal.
"What we have is a confused teenager, overnight thrown into the highest level of the criminal justice system in the United States out of a country where there's no law at all," Jamal said. Wali-i-Musi speaks no English and may never have attended school, he said.
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.
The U.S. officials said the teenager was brought to New York to face trial in part because the FBI office here 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.
Ron Kuby, a New York-based civil rights lawyer, said he has been in discussions about forming a legal team to represent the Somalian.
"I think in this particular case, there's a grave question as to whether America was in violation of principles of truce in warfare on the high seas," said Kuby. "This man seemed to come onto the Bainbridge under a flag of truce to negotiate. He was then captured. There is a question whether he is lawfully in American custody and serious questions as to whether he can be prosecuted because of his age."
Associated Press Writers Tom Hays in Riverside, Calif., Devlin Barrett in Washington, Larry Neumeister and Jennifer Peltz in New York and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.