Somali captors move U.S. hostage after Navy SEAL raid
The high-profile rescue early Wednesday raised questions about whether the many other Western hostages held in Somalia have a greater chance at release — or are in greater danger.
"If they try again we will all die all together," warned Hassan Abdi, a Somali pirate connected to the gang holding the American. "It's difficult to hold U.S. hostages, because it's a game of chance: die or get huge money. But we shall stick with our plans and will never release him until we get a ransom."
U.S. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia early Wednesday and hiked to where captors were holding American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane. A shootout ensued and nine captors were killed. Buchanan, Thisted and the U.S. troops were all unharmed. The two aid workers had been kidnapped by gunmen in October while working on demining projects for the Danish Refugee Council.
Buchanan and Thisted on Thursday were at the U.S. Naval Air Base at Sigonella, Sicily as part of their reintegration process, undergoing more complete medical examinations and debriefing. Officials could not immediately say how long they would stay there before returning home.
The U.S. government said the raid was prompted by Buchanan's deteriorating health. An ailing Frenchwoman kidnapped by Somali gunmen died in captivity last year after not having access to her medication.
"Holding hostages in one place is unlikely now because we are the next target," Abdi said, referring to the raid in a phone conversation with The Associated Press. He expressed concern that the U.S. had pirate informants.
"It wasn't just a hit and run operation, but long planned with the help of insiders among us," Abdi said, noting the soldiers had struck at the time when the pirates were least on their guard.
The gang has moved an American kidnapped on Saturday in the northern Somali town of Galkayo three times in the last 24 hours, he said.
Other hostages held in Somalia include a British tourist and two Spanish aid workers seized in neighboring Kenya, a French military adviser and 155 sailors of various nationalities hijacked by pirates at sea.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders, known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, employed the two Spanish women. The group said it is pleased that Buchanan and Thisted were freed and that MSF is still seeking the liberation of its workers, Montserrat Serra and Blanca Theibaut. It hinted, though, that it views military raids as risky.
"MSF strongly favors the nonviolent resolution of such cases, as the use of force endangers the lives of the hostages and may result in the tragic loss of human lives," the group said. "We call upon the Somali population, especially the local authorities in control of the areas where the two are held, to do everything in their power to assist in their safe release."
It's not always clear what group is holding a captive in Somalia. Hostages have sometimes been sold from one gang to another. Captives can be held for long stretches: Two journalists from Canada and Australia were held for 15 months before being released in 2009, and the French military adviser has been missing for more than two years.
The security community is divided over whether the U.S. raid would make life more difficult for other captives, one Western official in Kenya said, or whether the killings of the nine captors might make pirates think twice about launching future operations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
On Wednesday evening, hours after the U.S. military raid, the gang holding the American kidnapped on Saturday started circulating false rumors that they had executed him.
Another security official who has years of experience in the region said it is likely the men holding the American would move him onto a ship with other foreign hostages, because ships were easier to defend and planning rescue operations is more complicated when there are hostages from other countries involved.
The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. At least one pirate agreed with his analysis.
"I think land captivity is going to end now. Sea is much safer," pirate Mohamed Nur said by phone from the coastal town of Hobyo. "Even ships are not very safe but you can at least hit back and resist."
Americans have been captured by Somali pirate gangs before. In 2009, the cargo vessel Maersk Alabama was briefly hijacked before pirates took to the lifeboat with the ship's captain, who was rescued after Navy sharpshooters killed the pirates.
But in a sign that pirates are getting increasingly violent — and perhaps jittery — four Americans onboard a hijacked yacht were killed last February. It's still unclear why the hostages were shot. Two of the pirates had already boarded a U.S. warship shadowing the yacht.
Several senior pirates condemned Wednesday's U.S. raid, which was authorized by President Barack Obama, and at least one warned that any other U.S. hostages might suffer as a result.
"They send hit squads and kill all they want, so there is no way we will care for their people (hostages) while they are killing us. They will see the aftereffects and reap the results of their actions," said Bile Hussein, a Somali pirate commander.
A spokesman for Somalia's weak U.N.-backed government said the pirates had got what they deserved.
"Pirates have no place in our society," Abdirahman Omar Osman told AP. "This is a huge and unforgettable lesson for them."
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