One Danish and one American hostage were freed from Somali pirates in a night time raid by US Navy SEALs on Tuesday.
According to US officials, 60-year-old Poul Hagen Thisted and American Jessica Buchanan, 32, were rescued by two teams of SEALs who landed by helicopter near the compound in central Somalia where the hostages were being held.
Six helicopters were involved in the operation, which used the cover of darkness to fly low and land just after 2am near the compound.
Gunfire broke out as the SEALs approached and nine pirates are reported killed. Five other pirates were said to have been captured. There are no reports of injuries among the US troops and the hostages were unharmed.
The mission was reportedly carried out from an airport in the town of Galkayo, the largest settlement close to pirate strongholds in central Somalia. The helicopters flew to Galkayo from a US airbase in the coastal African state of Djibouti.
The two had been working for refugee agency Dansk FlygtningehjÃ¦lp on a demining project in northern Somalia when they were kidnapped in October. According to local officials, the security teams hired to protect them were behind the kidnapping. Dansk FlygtningehjÃ¦lp confirmed that they had been freed and will soon be on their way back to their families.
Commenting on the operation, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt said: “I am of course overjoyed that the hostages have been freed and are safe,” she said. “This is excellent news.”
Thorning-Scmidt said that her government had been informed by the US that they planned to attempt a rescue. She declined to elaborate on what she was told.
She also expressed concern for the two Danish merchant seamen still being held by pirates in Somalia. Eddy Lopez and SÃ¸ren LyngbjÃ¸rn have been prisoners of Somali pirates for six months.
“We are very sad that Danish citizens are still being held hostage.”
Mohamed Ahmed Alim, the president of the Galmudug region, were the rescue took place, thanked the US for taking action.
“The pirates have destroyed peace throughout the region. They are organised criminals.”
Alim promised in November to use every means possible to free the hostages after the kidnappers had demanded between 50 and 65 million kroner for their release.
Dansk FlygtningehjÃ¦lp provides meals and other relief help to some 450,000 refugees in the Somalia-Kenya border region.