The Pentagon acknowledged today that it launched an unsuccessful rescue mission to bring back a kidnapped American journalist eight days before al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a video threatening his life.
Luke Somers, 33, was working as a photojournalist for news outlets including the BBC when he disappeared in Sana’a in September 2013.
Wednesday’s video was the first time AQAP’s media arm, Al-Malahem Media Foundation, has released images of Somers.
“Basically, I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation,” Somers says in the video, in which he wears a purple dress shirt against a park-like background. “I am certain that my life is in danger.”
AQAP official Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi reads a statement in the video in a studio setting, threatening to kill Somers by the end of the week unless America meets a list of demands — something he doesn’t detail but says the U.S. government knows about.
Somers’ family issued a video (below) stressing they had no prior knowledge of the rescue attempt and pleading with Luke’s captors to not harm him.
“Please show mercy and give us an opportunity to see our Luke again,” his mother asks. “He is all that we have.”
In a statement today, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the U.S. “attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of hostages, including U.S. citizen Luke Somers, held in Yemen by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.”
“This operation was conducted in partnership with the armed forces of Yemen and involved air and ground components. Some hostages were rescued, but others — including Somers — were not present at the targeted location. Details about the mission remain classified,” Kirby said.
“We are only acknowledging the fact of the operation now to provide accurate information given that it is being widely reported in the public domain.”
Kirby added that “as we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity.”
“We use the full breadth of our military, intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can,” he said. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”
The Pentagon didn’t confirm reports that the rescued hostages included Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian.
AQAP slammed the administration for the raid. “We warn Obama and the American government of the consequences of proceeding with any other foolish action,” al-Ansi said in the video.
After the beheading of journalist James Foley by ISIS in August, the administration said it attempted to rescue U.S. hostages earlier in the summer in Syria, but they weren’t at the location of the raid.