It's not always clear what group is holding a captive in Somalia, and hostages have sometimes been sold from one gang to another. Captives can be held for long stretches: Two journalists from Canada and Australia were held for 15 months before being released in 2009, and the French military adviser has been missing for more than two years.
The security community is divided over whether the U.S. raid would make life more difficult for the other captives or whether the killings of the nine captors might make pirates think twice about launching future operations, a Western official in Kenya said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
On Wednesday evening, hours after the U.S. military raid, the gang holding the American hostage started circulating false rumors that they had executed him.
Another security official who has years of experience in the region said it was likely the men holding the American would move him onto a ship with other foreign hostages, because ships were easier to defend and planning rescue operations is more complicated when hostages from other countries are involved.
At least one pirate agreed with his analysis.
"I think land captivity is going to end now. Sea is much safer," pirate Mohamed Nur said by phone from the coastal town of Hobyo. "Even ships are not very safe, but you can at least hit back and resist."
Americans have been captured by Somali pirate gangs before. In 2009, the cargo vessel Maersk Alabama was briefly hijacked before pirates took to the lifeboat with the ship's captain, who was rescued after Navy sharpshooters killed the pirates.
But in a sign that pirates are getting increasingly violent — and perhaps jittery — four Americans onboard a hijacked yacht were killed last February. It's still unclear why the hostages were shot.
Several senior pirates condemned Wednesday's U.S. raid, which was authorized by President Barack Obama, and at least one warned that other U.S. hostages might suffer as a result.
"They send hit squads and kill all they want, so there is no way we will care for their (hostages) while they are killing us. They will see the aftereffects and reap the results of their actions," said Bile Hussein, a Somali pirate commander.
A spokesman for Somalia's U.N.-backed government said the pirates got what they deserved.
"Pirates have no place in our society," Abdirahman Omar Osman told the AP. "This is a huge and unforgettable lesson for them."
Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya, and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Katharine Houreld at twitter.com/khoureld
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