American hostage in Somalia rescued by US Navy SEALs in overnight raid
Updated at 8:15 a.m. ET: A U.S. official tells The Associated Press that the Navy SEAL team that rescued the American and Danish hostages in Somalia was the same one that killed Osama bin Laden.
Published at 1:15 a.m. ET: WASHINGTON -- In a daring nighttime raid Tuesday, U.S. Navy SEALs rescued two hostages, including one American, who were being held by kidnappers in Somalia, U.S. officials tell NBC News.
American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and a 60-year-old Dane, Poul Thisted, were working for a Danish relief organization in northern Somalia when they were kidnapped last October. U.S. officials described their kidnappers as heavily armed common criminals with no known ties to any organized militant group.
According to the U.S. officials, two teams of Navy SEALs landed by helicopter near the compound where the two hostages were being held.
As the SEALS approached the compound on foot gunfire broke out, the U.S. officials said, and several of the militants were reportedly killed. There is no word that any of the Americans were wounded.
The SEALs gathered up Buchanan and Thisted, loaded them onto the helicopters and flew them to safety at an undisclosed location. The two hostages were not injured during the rescue operation and are reported to be in relatively good condition.
The two had been working for the Danish Refugee Council on a demining project in northern Somalia. The humanitarian group has been providing relief to some 450,000 refugees in the Somalia-Kenya border region.
News reports at the time said the two were kidnapped Oct. 25 along with a Somali colleague when their three-car convoy was stopped on the way to an airport. A self-proclaimed Somali pirate said they had been kidnapped for ransom by pirates stymied by Western nations' efforts to stop the seizure of ships off the coast. The fate of the Somali colleague was unclear.
The first indication of the rescue operation came Tuesday night in Washington from President Barack Obama himself.
As the president entered the House chambers to give his State of the Union Speech, he pointed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta standing in the crowd and said, "Leon. Good job tonight. Good job tonight."
The president made no mention of the hostage rescue, but finished his speech with a reference to the killing of Osama bin Laden last May in a similar operation to the one conducted by Navy SEALs Tuesday night.
Updated at 5:57 a.m. ET: In a statement sent to NBC News and other media, Obama says that he authorized the operation to rescue Buchanan.
"Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations Forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home," he says. "As Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts."
Obama, who spoke to Buchanan's father Tuesday night, says she was "selflessly serving her fellow human beings when she was taken hostage by criminals and pirates who showed no regard for her health and well-being."
He says he told her father that "all Americans have Jessica in our thoughts and prayers, and give thanks that she will soon be reunited with her family."
"The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice," Obama adds. "This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."
"During the course of the operation, the rescue force patrolled to the location and confirmed the presence of Mrs. Buchanan and Mr. Thisted guarded by nine captors," the statement says. "All nine captors were killed during the assault."
General Carter F. Ham, of U.S. Africa Command, says in the statement that the raid, which took place near Gadaado, was "boldly conducted by some of our nation's most courageous, competent, and committed special operations forces."
"Thanks to them a fellow American and her Danish co-worker are safe and will soon be home with their families," he adds.
Updated at 6:55 a.m. ET: A statement from Panetta says he is "grateful to report that there was no loss of life or injuries to our personnel."
He says the rescue -- "undertaken in a hostile environment" -- showed the "superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others."
"They are heroes and continue to inspire all of us by their bravery and service to our nation," he says.