, MOGADISHU, Apr 21 – Foreign naval forces launched an attack on Somali pirates near their base in the town of Hobyo that left at least four dead and six wounded, witnesses and pirates said on Thursday.
Foreign anti-piracy forces attacked a suspected pirate "mother ship" at around 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Wednesday near the coast between Hobyo and the lair of Eel Dhanane, further north, local elders and residents said.
"The foreign forces combating the pirates attacked a boat and killed four people last night," Mohamed Jama, a local elder, told AFP.
"Six others were also injured and the boat has now returned to shore with the victims onboard," he said.
"I don\’t know these men and whether they are pirates or not but there was a heavy exchange of fire between the two sides and the boat was badly damaged by the gunshots," said Hussein Adan, a resident.
Several other residents gave a similar account and death toll.
A local pirate said the targeted boat was being used by the pirates to bring supplies to another hijacked vessel moored off the coast.
"The invading forces attacked one of our boats last night and there was heavy fighting that inflicted casualties on both sides. Three of our men died on the spot," said the pirate, who asked to be identified only as Abdirahman.
He said two helicopters were also involved in the operation and the fighting lasted around an hour.
According to Ecoterra International, an environmental and human rights organisation monitoring maritime activity in the region, helicopters intervened after the original attack on the pirate boat was met with gunfire.
Quoting its own witnesses, Ecoterra spoke of three dead and eight wounded.
"Since the attack at Hobyo this evening was launched at night-time, none of the eyewitnesses could clearly identify the attacking nation," it said.
There was no immediate reaction from the European Union, NATO or any of the other naval outfits patrolling the Indian Ocean.
According to Ecoterra, more than 40 foreign vessels are held for ransom by Somali pirates. Several other fishing dhows are missing and presumed hijacked.
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