US military mulls attacking Somali pirates' land bases; pirates vow revenge
Published: Monday April 13, 2009

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While some Somali pirates are threatening to take revenge for two deadly international assaults which disrupted their kidnapping plots the last week, the US military is mulling taking the fight to their bases.

Also, a US congressman's plane was reportedly fired upon by insurgents as he was taking off from Mogadishu.

"The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said," Bloomberg News reports.

The report continues, "The military also is drawing up proposals to aid the fledgling Somalia government to train security forces and develop its own coast guard, said the officials, who requested anonymity. The plans will be presented to the Obama administration as it considers a coordinated U.S. government and international response to piracy, the officials said."

"Somali insurgents fired mortars towards U.S. congressman Donald Payne as he left the Somali capital on a rare visit by a U.S. politician to the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, police said," Reuters reports. "'One mortar landed at the airport when Payne's plane was due to fly and five others after he left and no one was hurt,' Abukar Hassan, a police officer at Mogadishu airport, told Reuters."

"The plane of the congressman was leaving and the mortars started falling. There were no casualties, but the attack was aimed at the congressman. He flew out safely," the AU official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Payne, congressman from New Jersey and a member of the foreign affairs committee, arrived in Mogadishu hours earlier for talks with President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and his prime minister on rampant piracy off the country's coast.

Meanwhile, 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 naval snipers kill his captors after a five-day standoff.

After the rescue late Sunday, 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... 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 shot the pirates 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 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 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 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."

He said the United States was resolved to combat piracy off Somalia.

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 Maersk Alabama docked safely in Kenya's Mombasa port Saturday and the crew of 20 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 to a Greek ship that had been hijacked by the group.

They were "foolish to insist on getting another ship for transfer and all contacts with the American officials were dropped... after the standoff intensified," said Mohamed Dualeh, an elder who was part of talks to free the captain.

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.

Meanwhile, Somali pirates who seized an Italian tugboat on Saturday with its 16 crew members anchored it off a coastal village in northern Somalia.

"We are planning to send them a team to ask what they are about to demand," said Abdiweli Ali Tar, chief of the coastguard in Puntland, a breakaway region in northern Somalia.

A court in Puntland on Sunday jailed 15 men for three years each for piracy, witnesses reported.

Nine of those convicted had been intercepted and handed over by the French navy. Two other defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence.

At a press conference earlier, Payne called for broader efforts against piracy off the lawless country's coast and defended Sunday's action that ended the five-day hostage standoff.

"Illegal activities must be dealt with, if you don't deal with criminal behavior then they will continue," he added.

Somali pirates have taken advantage of good weather to increase their attacks in recent days, despite the presence of an international task force set up to defend vessels in what is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

(with wire reports)

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