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Navy SEAL team rescues woman with Bedford ties

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By John Barnhart

    The last two years have been a rough time for John Buchanan.

    Buchanan and his wife moved here from Ohio a few years ago. He is a furniture maker and restorer and they were looking for a place to semi-retire. They loved the mountains, they loved Virginia and settled in the Bedford area.
    Then, in 2010, his wife died. He was still trying to adjust to that when his daughter, Jessica, was kidnapped by Somali pirates in October, 2011.


    Jessica Buchanan had worked with non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Africa for six years. She’s worked  in Sudan, Kenya, and then in Somalia. She was working with the Danish Refugee Council, which had a group there clearing land mines and disposing of explosive ordnance. Jessica, however, was not digging up mines or disarming bombs.
    “She’s a teacher,” her father said. “She was trying to educate the Somali populace about the danger of this ordnance.”
    War has raged in Somalia for a couple of decades, leaving lots of unexploded ordnance lying about.
    “There have been lots of kids killed and maimed,” John said.
    It can be mines, or it can be a case of children finding a grenade. Or, perhaps they may find some other explosive device and accidentally detonate it. Jessica was writing a curriculum to teach children to leave this stuff alone if they find it. The goal was to recruit Somali nationals to teach the material to the children.
    John said that his daughter, and a Danish national, were kidnapped for money.
    “Purely money,” he said.
    John said that the pirates turned out to be impossible to deal with. The family’s fear was that she could end up being held for 10 months or a year. Jessica has a health condition, that John would not reveal, citing his daughter’s privacy. He said that it was possible for it to deteriorate to the point of becoming life-threatening.
    “We had gotten reports that she was fairly ill,” he said.
    “It was a very difficult for all of us,” John said, “It was unpredictable for all of us.”
    Early last week, on Tuesday, Jan. 24 he was in Washington, talking—along with representatives of the Danish NGO—with the FBI. At that time, he did not know that President Obama had authorized a SEAL raid to rescue his daughter. He’s not sure that all the people he was talking with did, either. He did, however, realize that something was going on.
    Finally, in the evening, he was told that he would get an important phone call. He didn’t know who would call him, or what kind of news he would get. After he got this word, 40 minutes passed.
    “It was a long 40 minutes,” he recalled.
    When he received that call, he discovered that the President of the United States was on the other end.
    “I was stunned,” he said. “I’m just an ordinary guy.”
    The news was good. Members of Navy SEAL Team 6 had freed the captives in a nighttime raid and his daughter was safe.
    “I can’t tell you how glad I am that the whole thing is over,” John commented.
    Jessica Buchanan had been working with the Danish Refugee Council when she and the Dane, Poul Hagen Thisted, were kidnapped in October. Thisted was also rescued in the raid.
    President Obama had authorized the SEAL raid.
    “On Monday, I authorized an operation to rescue Jessica Buchanan, an American citizen who was kidnapped and held against her will for three months in Somalia,” President Obama stated in a news release last week. “Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations Forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home. As Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts.”
    The President added in his statement: “Jessica Buchanan was selflessly serving her fellow human beings when she was taken hostage by criminals and pirates who showed no regard for her health and well-being. … 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.”
    Representatives with the DRC were also pleased with the rescue operation.
    “I am happy and relieved to know that the nightmare of Poul and Jessica is now over. They are both unharmed, on their way to a secure location, where they will receive proper care and be reunited with their families,” said Ann Mary Olsen, head of the International Department of DRC.
    The two humanitarian aid workers from Danish Deming Group, DDG, the mine action unit of the Danish Refugee Council, DRC, were abducted on October 25, 2011, in Galkayo, Central Somalia.
    “The Danish Refugee Council was informed of the possibility of a rescue operation taking place, but knew of no specific details on how and when. What we know for sure, and what is most important for us is that Poul and Jessica are now free. We thank those who have ended this extreme ordeal and criminal act that Jessica and Poul were victims of,” said Olsen.
    Since the kidnapping, the Danish Refugee Council has received unique support from influential clan leaders, elders, and politicians in Somalia, while Somali civil society have shown strong support by taking to the streets to demonstrate and demand the release of the two, a statement from DRC noted.
    “The Somali society has all along condemned the kidnapping and over time increased their pressure on the criminals involved with the kidnapping. The Somali society has continued their strong support to this day. We have been congratulated from all corners of the Somali society, and we have been told of celebrations in the the capital Mogadishu, in Galkayo and in the streets of Adado, where the local community has worked very hard to help Poul and Jessica. We are grateful for their strong support. Their efforts have not been wasted,” said Olsen.
    Jessica Buchanan, 32, has been employed as a regional education adviser with the mine clearance unit of DRC since May 2010. Sixty-year-old Poul Hagen Thisted, a community safety manager with DDG, has been working with both DRC and DDG in Somaliland and Somalia since June 2009.