Va. woman freed from Somali pirates in U.S. military raid

Poul Hogen Thistead and Jessica Buchanan were freed during a U.S. military raid in Somalia.

SOMALIA (AP) - 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."

A U.S. military official confirmed to ABC News that, around 2 a.m., Seals parachuted from a plane into the area near the compound where the aid workers were being held. There were shots fired as they approached the compound, but this official says there were no U.S. casualties.

The Seals and the workers then boarded a helicopter and left the area, ABC News reports. The team was on the ground for about an hour.

According to ABC News, Buchanan, 30, { }is from Bedford, Va.

She{ }and Thisted, 60, had been working with a de-mining unit of the Danish Refugee Council when they were kidnapped in October.

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."

The president personally authorized the rescue Tuesday because the Special Ops Forces said it was time--Buchanan's health was beginning to decline, an official said.

"She's a young woman in her 30s, so we wanted to act and they did," said an official.

A family friend said she is doing well now.

Same unit that got Bin Laden

A U.S. official says the Navy SEAL team that rescued Buchanan and Thisted in Somalia was the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden.

SEAL Team Six parachuted into Somalia under cover of darkness Wednesday and rescued them from an outdoor camp where they were being held by Somali pirates, the official said.

The same team executed the mission last May in which al-Qaida leader bin Laden was killed.

The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the top secret operation.

Hostages taken to Djibouti

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.

Obama issued a story early on Wednesday morning, saying "last night I spoke with Jessica Buchanan’s father and told him 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," the president added.

The gunman had reportedly refused $1.5 million to let the hostages go and negotiations had come to a stand-still.

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."

Pirates took hostages in October

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.