A Somali pirate chief yesterday threatened to target Americans in revenge for the rescue of a US captain in a dramatic operation that saw naval snipers kill his captors after a five-day standoff.
After the rescue late on Sunday, the head of the pirate group that had held the American hostage aboard a lifeboat said they had agreed to free him without ransom before the US Navy took action.
“The American liars have killed our friends after they agreed to free the hostage without ransom … this matter will lead to retaliation and we will hunt down particularly American citizens traveling our waters,” Abdi Garad said by phone from the pirate lair of Eyl.
“We will intensify our attacks even reaching very far away from Somali waters and next time we get American citizens … they [should] expect no mercy from us,” he said.
Captain Richard Phillips, who commanded the Maersk Alabama cargo ship, was rescued when snipers shot the pirates on Sunday evening, after US President Barack Obama approved the use of force to save him, the navy said.
He was in good condition after being held hostage for five days in the lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama, whose American crew had fought off the pirates’ attempt to capture it on Wednesday.
Navy snipers hidden in the stern of the USS Bainbridge, one of two warships that rushed to the scene, shot and killed the pirates, said Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of US naval forces in the region.
The pirates “were pointing the AK-47s at the captain,” who was tied up, Gortney said, adding that Obama had given orders to “take decisive action” if Phillips was at risk.
The snipers fired when they had one of the pirates in their sights “and two pirates with their head and shoulders exposed,” Gortney said.
At the time the Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer, was towing the lifeboat to calmer waters and was between 25m and 30m ahead of the boat.
CNN reported that the snipers were earlier brought in by helicopter and dropped into the water behind the Bainbridge.
The fourth pirate had surrendered, Gortney said, adding that the US Department of Justice was “working out the details” on how and where to prosecute him.
US media described the surviving pirate as possibly being 16 years old.
Although Washington’s policy is to not negotiate with pirates, Gortney acknowledged that US officials had engaged in a “deliberate hostage negotiation process” with a pirate who had come aboard the Bainbridge earlier.
After the pirate returned to the lifeboat, the process reached a low point and “it got heated,” he said.
Phillips was taken aboard the Bainbridge then flown to the assault ship USS Boxer. He called his family in the US and received a medical checkup.
In Washington, Obama — who had been publicly silent on the hostage crisis — said in a statement that he was “very pleased” with Phillips’ rescue, calling it “a welcome relief to his family and his crew.”