Al Qaeda kills journalist, teacher hostages during US-led rescue operation in Yemen, officials say
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said the hostages’ captors murdered them during the raid.
“US Special Operations Forces conducted a mission in Yemen to rescue a US citizen, Luke Somers, and any other foreign nationals held hostage with him by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terrorists,” Mr Hagel said in a statement released during a visit to Kabul.
“Both Mr Somers and a second non-US citizen hostage were murdered by the AQAP terrorists during the course of the operation.”
Mr Hagel added that Friday’s operation was undertaken when “there were compelling reasons to believe Mr Somers’ life was in imminent danger”.
A video posted by AQAP on Wednesday purported to show Mr Somers and threatened to kill him if unspecified demands were not met.
Major general Ali al-Ahmadi, chief of the national security bureau in Yemen, said Mr Somers was killed during the raid and other hostages held by the group had been taken to field hospitals, but gave no details about them or their condition.
Mr Somers was removed from the scene but later died from a wound he suffered during the rescue attempt, a senior official in the Yemeni president’s office said.
Obama condemns ‘barbaric murder’
US president Barack Obama condemned the “barbaric murder” of Mr Somers and offered his deepest condolences to his loved ones.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Mr Obama said he authorised the raid to rescue Mr Somers and other hostages held in the same location.
He said the US had used every tool at its disposal to secure Mr Somers’ release since his capture 15 months ago and thanked the Yemeni government for its support.
“Luke was a photojournalist who sought, through his images, to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world,” Mr Obama said.
“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.”
Teacher one day away from release: Charity
Relief group Gift of the Givers confirmed teacher Pierre Korkie was also killed.
“We received with sadness the news that Pierre was killed in an attempt by American special forces, in the early hours of this morning, to free hostages in Yemen,” the group said in a statement on its website.
“The psychological and emotional devastation to [his wife] Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by Al Qaeda tomorrow.”
Mr Korkie was seized along with his wife in May 2013 in the city of Taiz by members of AQAP.
The couple from the central South African city of Bloemfontein had worked as teachers in Yemen for four years.
Yolande was released in January following mediation by Gift of the Givers, which said Pierre’s release was just hours away when the US launched the operation to free the hostages, including US captive Mr Somers.
“A team of Abyan leaders met in Aden this morning and were preparing the final security and logistical arrangements related to hostage release mechanisms, to bring Pierre to safety and freedom,” the charity said.
“All logistical arrangements were in place to safely fly Pierre out of Yemen under diplomatic cover, then to meet with family members in a ‘safe’ country, fly to South Africa, and directly to hospital for total medical evaluation and appropriate intervention.
“It is even more tragic that the words we used in a conversation with Yolande … this morning were ‘the wait is almost over’.
“Three days ago we told her ‘Pierre will be home for Christmas’. We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded.”
Mr Hagel said several of the AQAP terrorists holding the hostages captive were killed in the mission, which was conducted in partnership with the Yemeni government.
“Yesterday’s mission is a reminder of America’s unrelenting commitment to the safety of our fellow citizens – wherever they might be around the world,” he said.
The rescue operation took place in the Wadi Abdan Al Daqqar region of Shabwa Province in southern Yemen and targeted an Al Qaeda group headed by Mubarak al-Harad.
On Thursday, the United States said it had made a failed attempt last month to rescue Mr Somers who was kidnapped in Sanaa in September 2013.
Al Qaeda and allied Islamist militants have a strong presence in large parts of southern and eastern Yemen.