Al-Qaeda kills American and South African hostages in Yemen

by Mickey McLean
Posted 12/06/14, 08:55 am

Militants from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed American photojournalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie Saturday in Yemen during a failed U.S.-led rescue attempt.

President Barack Obama said that information “indicated that Luke’s life was in imminent danger. Based on this assessment, and as soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorized a rescue attempt.”

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had posted a video online on Thursday threatening to kill Somers, which prompted the rescue attempt by American forces backed by Yemeni ground troops. The video showed Somers and threatened to kill him in three days if the United States didn’t meet the group’s unspecified demands or if another rescue was attempted. It was the second such attempt to free him.

Yemen’s national security chief, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Ahmadi, said al-Qaeda militants planned to kill Somers Saturday.

“Al-Qaeda promised to conduct the execution [of Somers] today, so there was an attempt to save them but unfortunately they shot the hostage before or during the attack,” al-Ahmadi said at a conference in Manama, Bahrain. “He was freed but unfortunately he was dead.”

The operation began before dawn Saturday in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, a stronghold of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A U.S. drone struck the Wadi Abdan area first, followed by strafing runs by jets and Yemeni ground forces moving in, a Yemeni security official said. Helicopters also flew in more forces, he said.

At least nine al-Qaeda militants were killed in an initial drone strike, another security official said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity, as they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.

Both Somers and Korkie “were murdered by the AQAP terrorists during the course of the operation,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said from Kabul, Afghanistan.

A senior White House official told The Associated Press that militants tried to kill Somers just before the raid, wounding him. U.S. commandos took Somers to a Navy ship in the region where he died, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be approved for release.

Gift of Givers, an aid group helping negotiate the release of Korkie, said he was to be freed Sunday.

Obama did not mention Korkie by name in his statement, but said he “authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.” The South African government did not immediately comment on Korkie’s death.

Saturday’s operation marked the second rescue attempt by U.S. and Yemeni forces looking for Somers, among the roughly dozen hostages believed held by al-Qaeda in Yemen.

On Nov. 25, American special operations forces and Yemeni soldiers raided a remote al-Qaeda safe haven in a desert region near the Saudi border, freeing eight captives—including Yemenis, a Saudi, and an Ethiopian. Somers, a Briton, and four others had been moved days earlier, officials later said.

Somers was kidnapped in September 2013 as he left a supermarket in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, said Fakhri al-Arashi, chief editor of the National Yemen, where Somers worked as a copy editor and a freelance photographer during the 2011 uprising in Yemen.

The photojournalist was born in Britain and earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing while attending Beloit College in Wisconsin from 2004 through 2007.

Korkie was kidnapped in the Yemeni city of Taiz in May 2013, along with his wife Yolande, who was later released.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mickey McLean

Mickey is executive editor of WORLD Digital.

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