In a video released Wednesday by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi threatened to kill an American photojournalist by the end of the week if the U.S. government didn’t meet a list of demands.
AQAP was incensed by the late November rescue attempt by U.S. and Yemeni forces to rescue 33-year-old Luke Somers, kidnapped in Sana’a in September 2013.
According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, President Obama authorized another rescue mission by U.S. Special Operations Forces, which was launched Friday.
“There were compelling reasons to believe Mr. Somers’ life was in imminent danger,” Hagel said in a statement this morning. “Both Mr. Somers and a second non-U.S. citizen hostage were murdered by the AQAP terrorists during the course of the operation. On behalf of the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, I extend our condolences, thoughts, and prayers to their families and loved ones.”
That “non-U.S. citizen hostage” was South African Pierre Korkie, who was teaching in Yemen when he was kidnapped with his wife, Yolande, in May 2013. The Gift of the Givers, a South African NGO that provides disaster relief, negotiated Yolande’s release in January.
According to South Africa’s News24, Gift of the Givers had negotiated Pierre Korkie’s release and he was due to be set free on Sunday.
Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman told the news channel that the agreement for his release was reached on Nov. 26. “It is even more tragic that the words we used in a conversation with Yolande at 05:59am this morning was ‘the wait is almost over’,” Sooliman told the network. “Alas, the events of this morning put an end to 11 months of unlimited attempts to bring Pierre home safely.”
AQAP claims it killed the hostages before leaving the location of the raid. No U.S. troops were injured.
The New York Times reported that Somers was badly wounded in the raid and died from his injuries before reaching a U.S. ship in the region.
A tribal leader who said he witnessed the raid, Tarek al-Daghari al-Awlaki, told the NYT that “starting about 1 a.m. on Saturday, helicopters and as many as 100 troops descended on the village, Wadi Abadan. The United States forces deployed concussion grenades as they raided four houses in the village, he said.”
“The shooting caused panic,” Mr. Daghari said. “Nine of the dead are from my tribe. Two of the dead are known to be members of Al Qaeda.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. raid failed because forces lost the element of surprise.
President Obama issued a statement condemning the “barbaric murder” of Somers and a “non-U.S. citizen hostage.”
“As this and previous hostage rescue operations demonstrate, the United States will spare no effort to use all of its military, intelligence, and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located. And terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice,” Obama said.
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.
“Luke was a photojournalist who sought through his images to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world,” Obama continued. “He came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organization. The callous disregard for Luke’s life is more proof of the depths of AQAP’s depravity, and further reason why the world must never cease in seeking to defeat their evil ideology.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said AQAP “again demonstrated their cruelty and their disdain for human life, freedom, and the Yemeni people whom they terrorize daily.”
Kerry added that he recommended Obama authorize the rescue mission.
“AQAP knows how to hate, they know how to murder, and now they have robbed a family of an idealistic young photojournalist who went to Yemen to practice his calling and document the lives of ordinary Yemenis. As a parent, I know there are no words that can assuage the loss that Luke’s family has suffered, or the anguish of the family of the second hostage who was killed. There’s no way to wipe away their pain,” he said in a statement.
“But Teresa and I both pray that they can find some small solace in knowing that the United States government and all of our people grieve with them, and that there were brave Americans in uniform willing to lay down their own lives so that they had a chance to live. We also pray for the families of all the innocents who are held against their will, whose safe return we work towards every day.”
Somers’ death brings the number of journalists and bloggers killed around the world this year to 81, according to Reporters Without Borders statistics.