The hostages had been abducted at gunpoint near the semiautonomous region of Galcayo, Somalia.
While pirates ordinarily raid ships, in this case they had taken the unusual step of conducting a kidnapping on land, subsequently holding their two hostages in an outdoor camp.
US Navy SEALs came in by helicopter. The SEALs came from SEAL Team 6, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden in May, according to the Associated Press. Several pirates were reportedly killed during a gun battle after US special operations forces hit the ground.
The American, Jessica Buchanan, a relief worker for the Danish Demining Group, and the Dane, Poul Thisted, were unharmed, according to US military officials, as were all members of the Navy SEALs.
[ Video is no longer available. ]
“I am grateful to report that there was no loss of life or injuries to our personnel,” said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in a statement.
Mr. Panetta received hearty congratulations from President Obama Tuesday night before the State of the Union address. As he entered the US Capitol chamber, Mr. Obama pointed to the defense secretary, saying “Good job tonight.”
Obama authorized the mission Monday.
On the heels of the SEAL Team raid, Panetta in turn praised the special operations force team. “The successful hostage rescue, undertaken in a hostile environment, is a testament to the superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others,” he said in the statement. “The mission demonstrates our military’s commitment to the safety of our fellow citizens wherever they may be around the world.”
The effort required close coordination between the Pentagon and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After the State of the Union Address, Obama called Ms. Buchanan's father and gave him the news that she was on her way home.
A “self-proclaimed” Somali pirate told NBC News that the two were kidnapped for ransom. Pirates, he said, are increasingly stymied by the efforts of Western nations to stop pirating off the Horn of Africa.
Another pirate told the Associated Press that nine pirates had been killed, and “and three were ‘taken away,’ which could mean they were captured by US troops.” He told the AP that the SEAL Team had initially found the guards sleeping, after chewing the narcotic leaf qat “for much of the evening.”
Most recently, a US Navy vessel rescued Iranian fisherman held by pirates since November.
“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 the captors to justice,” Obama said in a statement, released to the press at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. “This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people.”