MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — U.S. military forces flew in helicopters under the cover of darkness on a raid into Somalia early Wednesday and freed an American and a Dane held hostage since October, Western officials said. Pirates reported a gun battle with several casualties.
The Danish Refugee Council confirmed that 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.
An 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 landed at a U.S. base in the tiny East African nation of Djibouti after the raid. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been released publicly.
Maj. Kelly Cahalan, a military spokeswoman at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said she had no information on the reported 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 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."
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.
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.