American journalist Luke Sommers, held by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists for more than a year, was killed during a rescue attempt by a joint US-Yemen military action early Saturday.
Also killed during the raid was a South African aid worker, Pierre Korkie.
Secretary Hagel made the announcement from the Pentagon early Saturday. He said “there were compelling reasons to believe Mr. Somers’ life was in imminent danger.” Hagel is referring to a video released by AQAP earlier in the week that said Sommers would be killed in 3 days unless their demands were met.
The President condemned AQAP’s killing of the two hostages and explained his decision to authorize the rescue attempt in a statement.
“Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours,” the statement said. “I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.”
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that a recommendation to authorize the operation had been made to the President.
Obama offered his condolences to Somers’ family.
“I also offer my thoughts and prayers to the family of a non-U.S. citizen hostage who was also murdered by these terrorists during the rescue operation,” the statement read. “Their despair and sorrow at this time are beyond words.”
An Osprey aircraft transported a team of U.S. Navy SEALs to the captives’ location. A firefight quickly broke out, and the hostages were loaded onto the plane and flown to a nearby U.S. ship, a U.S. official said.
One of the hostages died before reaching the ship. The other died afterward.
Drones and fighter jets patrolled overhead during the mission.
The U.S. forces who carried out the mission are safe, a U.S. defense official said. Both the President and Kerry praised their valor.
The hostages were being kept at a location close to another where U.S. and Yemeni forces had carried out a previous raid.
This rescue missions was particularly difficult, in part due to Yemen’s sparse population, retired Lt. Col. James Reese, global affairs analyst for CNN, said Saturday.
Reese noted that it would have been difficult for the military to travel a significant distance by air and still maintain the element of surprise in a rescue operation.
“It has to take precision,” he said. “This is like brain surgery.”
There had been a previous rescue attempt last month, during which US and Yemeni forces freed 8 hostages. Unfortunately, Sommers was not present at the location.
There is a claim by the aid group that Korkie worked for that he was to be released on Sunday:
During the raid, the militants with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also killed South African hostage Pierre Korkie, according to his employer, the relief group Gift of the Givers.
Korkie was to be released on Sunday, the group said in a statement.
He and his wife Yolande had fallen into the hands of abductors in May of last year, but they subsequently let her go. On Friday, a team of local leaders was finalizing arrangements to reunite Pierre Korkie to his wife and children, the statement reads.
Gift of the Givers recently told his wife that “the wait is almost over.”
“Three days ago we told her ‘Pierre will be home for Christmas,'” the group said. “We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded.”
How many times have we heard in recent years that a deal to release a hostage was near completion only to see the terrorists withdraw from the agreement at the last minute? I’m sure the aid group was negotiating in good faith and believed the terrorists were going to do as they promised. But terrorists are, by definition, pathological liars which is why negotiating with them is impossible.
This is the fifth hostage rescue attempt that we’ve heard about. Only one has been successful. Previous attempts have either failed to find the hostage or, as today, a hostage is killed. But when you consider the alternative, a rescue operation is probably the only chance these hostages have of surviving.