The White House has confirmed that US Special Forces carried out a night raid in northern Somalia and freed two hostages while killing a reported nine pirates.
A statement released on Wednesday from President Barack Obama read, "Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations Forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home."
The statement continued: "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 two aid workers, US citizen Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Dane Poul Hagan Thisted, 60, had been working for the Danish Demining Group.
They were abducted in Galkayo in the semi-autonomous Galmudug region in October.
Mohamed Ahmed Alim, president of Galmudug, told the Reuters news agency that nine pirates were killed and five captured during the operation near the pirate haven of Haradhere.
Alim was speaking from Hobyo, another pirate base north of Haradheere, where he said he was negotiating the release of a US journalist seized on Saturday, also from Galkayo.
"About 12 US helicopters are now at Galkayo. We thank the US. Pirates have spoiled the whole region's peace and ethics. They are mafia," Alim said.
A Western official told the Associated Press the raid was carried out by US military forces. A second official said the helicopters and the hostages flew to a US military base called Camp Lemonier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.
A crucial US ally in the region, Djibouti has the only US base in sub-Saharan Africa. It hosts the military's Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
The Danish Refugee Council said both freed hostages were unharmed "and at a safe location". The group said in a separate statement that the two "were on their way to be reunited with their families".
The two aid workers appear to have been kidnapped by criminals, sometimes referred to as pirates, and not by Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab.
As large ships at sea have increased their defences 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 gang members at the scene of the raid and they reported that nine pirates had been killed.
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A second pirate who gave his name as Ahmed Hashi said two helicopters attacked at about 2am at the site where the hostages were being held about 20km north of the Somali town of Adado.
US military rescue operations are typically carried out by highly trained special forces. A spokeswoman at the Pentagon had no immediate comment.
The Danish Refugee Council had earlier enlisted traditional Somali elders and members of civil society to seek the release of the two hostages.
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.
Several hostages are still being held in Somalia, including a British tourist and two Spanish doctors seized from neighboring Kenya, and the American journalist kidnapped on Saturday.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies