Fear for Hostages after US Snipers Kill Pirates

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 14, 2009 | Go to article overview

Fear for Hostages after US Snipers Kill Pirates


Byline: MarkWest

PIRATE hostages were feared at risk of a violent backlash from their captors last night in the wake of the successful freeing of an American merchant captain.

Three of the Somali abductors holding captain Richard Phillips were shot dead by US Navy special forces, known as Seals, as they held guns to his head adrift in a small lifeboat.

The operation was a victory for the world's most powerful military, but angry pirates vowed yesterday to retaliate.

Around 230 foreign sailors are still held hostage in more than a dozen ships anchored off the coast of lawless Somalia.

In a separate development yesterday, a US congressman had a narrow escape on a visit to the Somali capital Mogadishu after insurgents fired mortars towards his plane as it was about to take off.

Airport officials said one mortar landed near the airport as Donald Payne's plane was due to fly and five others after his plane departed.

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them [the hostages]," Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, said from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl. "[US forces] have become our number one enemy." News of Captain Phillips' rescue caused his crew in Kenya to break into wild cheers and brought tears to the eyes of those in his hometown of Underhill, Vermont, half a world away from the Indian Ocean drama.

President Barack Obama said he was pleased with the rescue, but added the United States still needed help from other countries to deal with piracy and to hold pirates accountable.

The end to a five-day standoff came on Sunday in a daring night-time assault in choppy seas after pirates had agreed to let the cruiser USS Bainbridge tow their powerless lifeboat out of rough water.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said Captain Phillips, 53, was tied up and in "imminent danger" of being killed because a pirate on the lifeboat held an AK-47 assault rifle to the back of his head.

At that, the commander of Bainbridge made the split-second decision to order Navy snipers to shoot at the lifeboat, around 25 to 30 yards away, taking aim at the pirates' heads and shoulders. …

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