Military Operation Frees Kidnapped Aid Workers in Somalia

Posted January 25th, 2012 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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An apparent U.S. military operation has freed two aid workers – an American woman and a Danish man – who were kidnapped by gunmen three months ago in central Somalia.

The Danish Refugee Council says Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted were rescued early Wednesday “during an operation in Somalia.” The humanitarian organization says both were freed unharmed and are at a safe location.

Several officials in Somalia say U.S. helicopters carried out the raid under cover of darkness. They say there was a gunbattle and at least nine militants were killed.

U.S. military officials have declined to comment, though several unidentified Western security officials say U.S. forces conducted the operation.

Just before his State of the Union address in Washington late Tuesday, President Barack Obama could be heard by television microphones congratulating Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, apparently for the success of the rescue operation.

Buchanan and Thisted worked for the Danish Demining Group, a unit of the Danish Refugee Council that helps clear landmines and other explosives in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. They were kidnapped in October while on their way to the airport in the central Somali city of Galkayo.

Officials say armed criminals, or pirates, appear to be responsible for the kidnapping. Somali pirates have increasingly carried out land-based kidnappings as foreign governments have increased security on the seas.

Several abductions for ransom have been carried out in Somalia and northern Kenya during the past several months. An American man was kidnapped near the Galkayo airport last week.

The Kenyan government blames kidnappings in its country on the Somali militant group al-Shabab and has sent troops into Somalia in pursuit of the militants.