The family of the ill American woman rescued in a daring nighttime raid by a U.S. special operations team in the heart of Somalia today thanked her rescuers from the Navy SEALs on the ground all the way up to the White House.
"We are very grateful that Jessica has been rescued," the family of 32-year-old Jessica Buchanan said in a statement. "This has been just an unbelievable answer to prayers and we are so grateful for the work of the President, the Navy SEALs and the State Department and we knew that God would set our sister free."
"It is a great day to be an American. We are very proud and very thankful to SEAL Team 6," Buchanan's brother, Stephen, added.
Buchanan, along with fellow aid worker Poul Hagen Thisted, 60, of Denmark were rescued in a dangerous mission ordered Monday by President Obama after the government received information that Buchanan suffered from a medical condition that was possibly "life-threatening" and a "window of opportunity for mission success" presented itself, according to Pentagon spokesperson George Little. Little did not describe Buchanan's medical condition.
Nine "heavily-armed" Somalis were killed in Tuesday's nighttime operation that involved special operations forces from various military services, Little said. According to another U.S. official, members of the famed U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six participated in the ground operations of the "Octave Fusion" rescue.
Buchanan and Thisted, who worked with the Danish Refugee Council's Danish Demining Group, were abducted three months earlier by a group of Somali bandits and held for ransom.
Shortly after the end of his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama called Buchanan's father to tell him about the rescue mission "and told him that all Americans have Jessica in our thoughts and prayers, and give thanks that she will soon be reunited with her family," according to a statement from the White House.
"The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice. This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people," he added.
Obama made no mention of the successful raid during his State of the Union speech, although keen observers noted an interesting exchange with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as he entered the House Chamber. Obama pointed to Panetta and said, "Leon. Good job tonight. Good job tonight."
According to Little, by the time the President gave Panetta that greeting the two hostages had been secured by the SEALs, but the mission was still ongoing as the freed hostages were still being flown to safety at Camp Lemonier, the U.S. military base in neighboring Djibouti. Prior to heading to Capitol Hill to attend the President's speech, Panetta and other national security officials had been at the White House monitoring the rescue mission as it unfolded.
A U.S. official said the mission began around 2 a.m. local time as a team of Navy commandos from the famed SEAL Team Six parachuted into the area near the desert encampment where the two aid workers were being held. U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that the raid took place in the vicinity of Gadaado in north central Somalia.
As the special operations team approached the camp, the official said "shots were fired" that did not result in any U.S. casualties. Little said that all nine heavily armed Somalia captors were killed in the firefight and said they "had explosives at the site."
He added that there were "very concrete plans for removing the kidnappers and putting them in detention," but fellow Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said "that opportunity didn't present itself."
After freeing Buchanan and Thisted, the military team and the aid workers left the area by helicopter and were taken to Camp Lemonier.
The overall mission involved participants from various services that Little and Kirby declined to identify, but a U. S. official said that Navy SEALS conducted the rescue mission on the ground and that they were from SEAL Team Six -- the same team that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, though not necessarily the same individuals that participated in that raid.
Few aid groups continue to operate inside Somalia because of the risks involved in conducting relief operations in one of the world most dangerous countries. The country has been ravaged by conflict for the past decade and an Islamic militant extremist group known as al-Shabaab has been a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the country.
U.S. officials said that the Somalis who kidnapped Buchanan and Thisted were organized criminals and not members of al-Shabaab. The officials say the bandits were also not believed to have ties to the pirates who operate in the waters off of East Africa prowling for commercial ships to hold for ransom, making the waters off Somalia some of the most dangerous in the world.
Buchanan joined DDG as a trainee in May 2010 and by January 2011 had become an education adviser for the group.
Andreas Camm, a spokesman for the Danish Refugee Council, told ABC News that Buchanan "has been very strong during this crisis when we have received proof of life."
"Our impression has been she has done very, very well and been a very, very strong person. And we were happy every time we heard of that," she said.
As for what kind of ransom the Somalis wanted from his group, Camm said, "We have told them, of course, that a humanitarian organization cannot pay."