Just released video from that rescue of Captain Richard Phillips Easter Sunday. Witness the skill and bravery. We also see the gratitude displayed during the extraction.
MOMBASA, Kenya - In a daring high-seas rescue, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers killed three Somali pirates and freed the American sea captain who had offered himself as a hostage to save his crew.
The operation was a victory for the world's most powerful military but angry pirates vowed Monday to retaliate.
Those threats raised fears for the safety of some 230 foreign sailors still held hostage in more than a dozen ships anchored off the coast of lawless Somalia.
"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them (the hostages)," Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, told the Associated Press from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl. "(U.S. forces have) become our No. 1 enemy."
News of Capt. Richard Phillips' rescue caused his crew in Kenya to break into wild cheers and brought tears to the eyes of those in Phillips' hometown of Underhill, Vt., half a world away from the Indian Ocean drama.
A statement from Phillips' wife Andrea was read at a news conference in Vermont on Monday. She said the hardest part for her was not knowing what her husband was enduring. She said she is proud of her husband and thanks everyone for giving her "the strength to be strong for Richard."
In Washington, President Barack Obama on Monday said Phillips' "safety has been our principal concern."
In a sharp warning to pirates off Somalia, Obama added: "I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks."
"We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, and we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes," the president said.
April 13: In an exclusive interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Cmdr. Frank X. Castellano of the USS Bainbridge talks about the call he received from the commander in chief following the successful rescue of Capt. Rick Phillips.
Earlier Monday, six mortar shells were fired toward the airport in the Somali capital of Mogadishu as a plane carrying a U.S. congressman took off, an airport employee at the control tower said.
New Jersey Democrat Donald Payne had met with Somalia’s president and prime minister for a one-day visit to discuss piracy and security issues. The airport staffer said Payne’s plane took off safely and none of the mortar shells landed in the airport.
Meantime, Pentagon sources told NBC News that the current plan is to reunite Phillips with his 19-man crew from the Maersk Alabama in the Kenyan city of Mombassa.
Phillips is still on the U.S. Navy ship Boxer, and it's not clear exactly when he will be take to the Kenyan port city. Pentagon officials say there's no concern over Phillips security despite pirates threats to seek retribution.
From Mombasa, it's believed Phillips and his crew will fly back to the United States aboard a plane chartered by Maersk Line Lmtd., which owns the Alabama.
The stunning resolution to a five-day standoff came Sunday in a daring nighttime assault in choppy seas after pirates had agreed to let the USS Bainbridge tow their powerless lifeboat out of rough water.
Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said Phillips, 53, was tied up and in "imminent danger" of being killed because a pirate on the lifeboat held an AK-47 assault rifle to the back of his head.
In an interview with NBC's TODAY show, Gortney said it took only three shots to kill the three pirates.
Interviewed Monday from Bahrain, Gortney said the take-down happened shortly after the hostage-takers were observed by sailors aboard the USS Bainbridge "with their heads and shoulders exposed."
Gortney described the snipers as "extremely, extremely well-trained." He said the firing by the snipers was ordered by the captain of the Bainbridge after the pirates "exposed themselves" to attack.
U.S. Defense officials said snipers got the go-ahead to fire after one pirate held an AK-47 close to Phillips’ back. Two other pirates popped their heads up out of the lifeboat, giving snipers three clear targets from the Bainbridge, one official said.
Military officials Monday described the snipers' operation as remarkable — firing at a small lifeboat 25 yards away at night and from the stern of a ship on rolling waters.
The SEALS arrived on the scene by parachuting from their aircraft into the sea, and were picked up by the Bainbridge, a senior U.S. official said.
A fourth pirate surrendered after boarding the Bainbridge earlier in the day and could face life in a U.S. prison. He had been seeking medical attention for a wound to his hand and was negotiating with U.S. officials on conditions for Phillips' release, military officials said.
In a move that surprised the pirates, the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama had put up a fight Wednesday when pirates boarded the ship. Until then, Somali pirates had become used to encountering no resistance once they boarded a ship in search of million-dollar ransoms.