A U.S. military helicopter raid freed an American and a Dane Wednesday who were being held hostage by pirates in Somalia.
The overnight operation by special forces and at least two helicopters resulted in a shootout with the captors, killing nine of them, and the freeing of the two hostages, according to officials. Pirates also reported a gun battle with several casualties.
The Danish Refugee Council confirmed that hostages Jessica Buchanan — an American — and Poul Hagen Thisted — a Dane — were freed "during an operation in Somalia."
Buchanan and Thisted were working for the Danish Demining Group when they were kidnapped from the town of Galkayo in the semi-autonomous Galmudug region in October.
"The Danish Refugee Council hereby confirms that Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted have been rescued earlier today during an operation in Somalia," the aid group said in a statement. The two workers were both unharmed and are at a safe location, it said. They had been held in Somalia since October.
The networking website LinkedIn.com lists Hagen as having been stationed in Hargeisa, Somaliland, since June 2009 as manager of a joint program between the Danish Refugee Council and FinChurcAid.
A U.S. official said the helicopters and the hostages landed after the raid at a U.S. military base called Camp Lemonnier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.
"One of the hostages has a disease that was very serious and that had to be solved," Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal told Denmark's TV2 channel. He didn't provide any further details. The minister congratulated the Americans for the raid and said he had been informed of the action.
In Washington Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama praised U.S. Special Operations Forces who rescued the pair.
"As commander-in-chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts," Obama said in a statement.
U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the two hostages were not harmed during the operation, and no U.S. troops were killed or injured.
On Tuesday night, Obama appeared to refer to the mission before delivering his State of the Union address. As he entered the House chamber in the U.S. Capitol, he pointed at Panetta in the audience and said, "Good job tonight." The president did not mention the operation during his speech.
In his statement Wednesday, Obama said: "The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice. This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people.
A pirate who gave his name as Bilal Hussein said he had spoken to pirates at the scene of the raid and they reported that nine pirates had been killed.
A second pirate who gave his name as Ahmed Hashi said two helicopters attacked at about 2 a.m. local time at the site where the hostages were being held about 20 kilometres north of the Somali town of Adow.