U.S. military forces helicoptered into Somalia in a nighttime raid Wednesday and freed two hostages, an American and a Dane, while killing nine pirates, officials and a pirate source said.
The Danish Refugee Council confirmed the two aid workers, American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagan Thisted, were freed "during an operation in Somalia." Buchanan, 32, and Thisted, 60, had been working with a de-mining unit of the Danish Refugee Council when they were kidnapped.
President Barack Obama appeared to refer to the mission before his State of the Union address in Washington Tuesday night. As he entered the House chamber in the U.S. Capitol, he pointed at Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the crowd and said, "Good job tonight."
A Western official told The Associated Press that the raid was carried out by U.S. military forces. A second official said the helicopters and the hostages flew to a U.S. military base called Camp Lemonier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been released publicly.
Panetta visited Camp Lemonier just over a month ago, A key U.S. ally in this region, Djibouti has the only U.S. base in sub-Saharan Africa. It hosts the military's Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
The Danish Refugee Council said both freed hostages are unharmed "and at a safe location." The group said in a separate statement that the two "are on their way to be reunited with their families."
The two aid workers appear to have been kidnapped by criminals - sometimes referred to as pirates - and not by Somalia's al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab. As large ships at sea have increased their defenses against pirate attacks, gangs have looked for other money making opportunities like land-based kidnappings.
A pirate who gave his name as Bile 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. at the site where the hostages were being held about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the Somali town of Adado.
Maj. Kelly Cahalan, a military spokeswoman at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said she had no information on the raid. A spokeswoman at the Pentagon had no immediate comment. U.S. military rescue operations are typically carried out by highly trained special forces.
The Danish Refugee Council had earlier enlisted traditional Somali elders and members of civil society to seek the release of the two hostages. The two were seized in October from the portion of Galkayo town under the control of a government-allied clan militia. The aid agency has said that Somalis held demonstrations demanding the pair's quick release.
Their Somali colleague was detained by police on suspicion of being involved in their kidnapping.
The two hostages were working in northern Somalia for the Danish Demining Group, whose experts have been clearing mines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East.
Several hostages are still being held in Somalia, including a British tourist and two Spanish doctors seized from neighboring Kenya, and an American journalist kidnapped on Saturday.
Associated Press reporter Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report. Houreld reported from Nairobi.
This program aired on January 25, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.