Four American hostages shot dead in Somali pirate standoff
FOUR American hostages were shot dead yesterday just before US naval forces stormed their captured yacht in a desperate bid to rescue them, a military spokesman has revealed.
Two pirates were killed - one knifed by a member of the US special forces and another shot - when rescuers boarded the yacht. Thirteen pirates were also captured.
US naval forces had been trailing the yacht, The Quest, with four warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, since its capture on Friday.
Two pirates had subsequently left The Quest to negotiate with naval personnel on the USS Sterett. But yesterday, while the two were still on board the Sterett, a rocket propelled grenade was fired at the US vessel, just 600 yards away. Shots were then heard coming from The Quest, where pirates were seen on deck standing with their hands raised.
Special forces quickly boarded the yacht, killing one of the pirates with a knife and shooting another before reaching the hostages. However, none of the hostages could be saved, said Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of US naval forces for Central Command.
The hostages were identified as Jean and Scott Adam, of Marina del Rey, near Los Angeles, and Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, of Seattle, Washington. The Adams had been sailing around the world since December 2004 on The Quest, which was loaded with Bibles. It was hijacked several hundred miles south of Oman.
"We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest," said General James N Mattis, the head of US Central Command.
President Barack Obama had authorised the US military on Saturday to use force in case of an imminent threat to the hostages, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The remains of two other pirates, dead for some time, were also found on The Quest, suggesting they may have been fighting with one another.
Two days before the attack, a New York court had sentenced a pirate to 33 years in jail for the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, an American cargo vessel. That hijacking ended when US snipers killed two pirates holding the ship's captain.
"It's a black day for us and also the Americans, but they lost bigger than us," a pirate using the name Bile Hussein said yesterday.
"If they still want a solution and safety for their citizens in the oceans, let them release our men they arrested."
Analyst Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, said the turn of events was surprising.
"We have heard threats against the lives of Americans before but it strikes me as being very, very unusual why they would kill hostages outright," he said.
The killing of the four Americans appears to underscore an increasingly brutal and aggressive shift of attitude among Somali pirates towards their hostages.
The conventional wisdom in the shipping industry had been that Somali pirates are businessmen looking for ransom, not insurgents looking to kill people.
Pirates - who currently hold 30 ships and more than 660 hostages - typically win a multi-million dollar ransom for releasing their captives. The money is often spent on alcohol, drugs and prostitutes.
One ransom paid last year was reported as $9.5 million (6m) - treble the average sum.
SOMALI militants have freed pirate gang leaders detained last week after agreeing on a cut for future ransoms as well as a deal to have hijacked ships anchor at the port town of Haradhere, pirates sources said yesterday.
The al-Shabaab rebels, who profess loyalty to al-Qaeda, said they had agreed a 20 per cent cut in all future ransoms paid to the pirates, and opened a marine office at Haradhere to liaise with the pirates.
The rebel group controls major sea ports in southern Somalia, including Kismayo, and seized Haradhere after merging with rival insurgents Hizbul Islam late last year.
"After negotiation we signed the 20 per cent ransom share to al-Shabaab and they released our leaders. Now our relationship with al-Shabaab has improved," a pirate who called himself Ali said by phone from Haradhere.
"They have opened the marine office to improve security and co-ordination between us. We are happy because we have no other alternatives than agreeing with al-Shabaab demands."
Ahmed Wardhere, a local community representative, confirmed the agreement.
"Pirates who previously belonged to al-Shabaab signed the agreement first and then the other pirates agreed. Only a small group of pirate gangs who refused the agreement moved away with their ship towards the deep shores of Hobyo, he added.
Western officials have long worried that money from piracy is making its way into the hands of extremists to fund violence in Somalia.
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