Wire: Hostage Talks Falter, Pirates Fire on US Navy Vessel
Off the Wire:
UPDATE: US Navy: Pirate Hostage Rescued by US Forces
WASHINGTON, April 11, 2009 -- Newswires reported this evening that Somali pirates Saturday fired at approaching U.S. sailors intent on rescuing a container ship captain being held by Somali pirates, according to CNN.
Citing a source it described as a U.S. official familiar with the situation, CNN said the pirates shot at U.S. Navy personnel as they tried to reach the lifeboat on which the captain, Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vt., was being held.
The sailors did not return fire and returned to the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, the official said.
The confrontation in the Indian Ocean came the same day a U.S.-owned tugboat towing two barges was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden. Unidentified maritime industry sources said all of the 16 crew members on board the hijacked tugboat were unharmed, the BBC reported.
The New York Times reported that negotiations over the American captain taken hostage by the pirates broke down on Saturday, according to Somali officials, after American officials insisted that the pirates be arrested and a group of elders representing the pirates refused.
Somali officials said the American captain and the four heavily armed pirates holding him hostage remained in a covered lifeboat floating in the Indian Ocean about 30 miles off Gara’ad, a notorious pirate den in northeastern Somalia, the Times also noted.
The standoff has forced President Barack Obama to focus on a place most Americans would rather forget. A U.S. intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s was a disaster, including the "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993 resulting from a military operation ordered under the Clinton White House that killed 18 U.S. troops and inspired a book and a movie, Reuters noted.
A White House spokesman said Obama received multiple updates on the piracy situation on Saturday.
President Obama has remained mum on the incidents.
When reporters asked the president directly about the incident on Thursday, he demurred. Instead, he stayed on his message of the day, saying: "Guys, we're talking about housing right now."
The Washington Post today reported that some U.S. defense officials have been frustrated by what they see as a failure to act by President Barack Obama's administration against a terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group.
The Al-Shabab organization, whose fighters have battled Ethiopian occupiers and the tenuous Somali government, has expanded rapidly and has ties between its leaders and al-Qaeda.
Army Gen. William E. (Kip) Ward, Commander, United States Africa Command told the Associated Press that while he didn't see a "dirct connection" between Somali pirates and Islamic extremists, he later said, "But, again, if you look at the clan structure or the tribes - to think that there may not be linkages probably is a bit naive."
A senior U.S. military official familiar with the region, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence gathering, said the military is still looking hard at potential connections between piracy and the escalating terrorist activities in East Africa, AP also noted.
AP reported that Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, warned that some of the money from piracy could make its way into the hands of extremists.
Multiple news sources reported that the pirates have demanded a $2 million ransom and have vowed to fight off any attack by U.S. forces.
(Report from multiple news sources.)
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