, MOGADISHU, April 13 – A Somali pirate chief on Monday threatened to target Americans in revenge for the rescue of a US captain in a dramatic operation that saw military snipers kill his captors after a five-day standoff.
After the rescue on Sunday evening, the head of the pirate group that had held the American hostage aboard a lifeboat told AFP 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, but I tell you that this matter will lead to retaliation and we will hunt down particularly American citizens travelling our waters," Abdi Garad said by phone from the pirate lair of Eyl.
"We will intensify our attacks even reaching very far away from Somalia waters, and next time we get American citizens… they (should) expect no mercy from us."
Captain Richard Phillips, who commanded the Maersk Alabama cargo ship, was rescued when snipers took aim at the pirates Sunday evening and after President Barack Obama approved the use of force to save him, the US navy said.
He was in good condition after being held hostage for five days in the lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama after the ship’s American crew on Wednesday fought off the pirates’ attempt to capture the freighter.
Navy snipers hidden in the rear of the USS Bainbridge, one of two navy 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.
Obama had given orders to "take decisive action" if Phillips was at risk at any time, Gortney said.
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 USS Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer, was towing the lifeboat to calmer waters and was some 25 to 30 meters (82 to 98 feet) ahead of the boat.
According to CNN, 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 the US government’s policy is to not negotiate with pirates, Gortney acknowledged that US officials engaged in a "deliberate hostage negotiation process" with the pirate aboard the USS Bainbridge.
Phillips was taken aboard the USS Bainbridge then flown to the assault ship USS Boxer. He called his family in the United States 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."
The United States was resolved to combat piracy off Somalia, Obama said.
Maersk spokeswoman Alison McColl, speaking in Phillips’ hometown of Underhill, Vermont, said the captain’s wife, Andrea, found her husband in good spirits on the phone.
The 20-crew Maersk Alabama had been bound for Mombasa, Kenya, carrying aid for the UN World Food Program, an agency official told AFP.
It docked safely in the Kenyan port Saturday and crew members celebrated after hearing of their captain’s rescue, shouting and popping open champagne bottles.
The US operation came two days after French commandos stormed a yacht where other Somali pirates were holding two French couples and a child. The child’s father was killed in the operation, while the other four hostages were freed.
Garad, the pirate chief, said the pirates had dropped their ransom demand for the American and asked for him to be moved onto a Greek ship that had been hijacked by the group.
Mohamed Dualeh, an elder who had been involved in efforts to end the standoff, said the pirates had been "foolish to insist on getting another ship for transfer and all contacts with the American officials were dropped in the afternoon after the standoff intensified."
A Somali government spokesman hailed the operation.
"I hope this operation will be a lesson for other pirates holding the hostages on the ships they hijacked," Abdulkadir Walayo told AFP.
Somali pirates have recently intensified their attacks, and another group was maneuvering an Italian tugboat and its 16-member crew towards the Somali coastline after it was hijacked Saturday, pirate sources said.