During a failed rescue operation by US commandos in Yemen, American journalist Luke Somers was killed, wrote President Obama early Saturday morning. According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Somers and fellow hostage, South African Pierre Korkie, were "murdered by AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] terrorists during the course of the operation." On Wednesday, AQAP released a video in which they threatened to kill Somers by the end of the week if their demands were not met. The group's leader announced, "We warn Obama and the American government of the consequences of proceeding with any other foolish action."
In his statement, President Obama said, "Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours. Other information also indicated 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 yesterday." The mission began at around 2 am Yemeni time on Saturday, and Twitter users reported hearing the sound of American drones approaching the region. But soon thereafter, in the midst of violence and gunfire, reports came that Somers and Korkie had been shot by AQAP.
The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of al Qaeda terrorists during a rescue operation conducted by U.S. forces in Yemen in partnership with the Yemeni government...On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke's family and to his loved ones.
The American raid on Yemeni Al Qaeda forces marked the second attempt by US forces to free Somers, who was working as a translator for the National Dialogue Conference when he was captured in September 2013. On November 25, just two weeks ago, a team of United States Special Operations commandos and Yemeni troops successfully rescued eight individuals held by AQAP in cave near the Saudi Arabian border, simultaneously killing seven Al Qaeda members. At the time however, the operation was unable to find Somers. Following the rescue mission, American officials significantly downplayed their involvement in the operation, referring instead to the Yemeni government in attempts to keep remaining American hostages safe from retaliation.
The 33-year-old photojournalist and teacher was described as "badly wounded" by the time American forces contacted him, and by the time he was evacuated to an American naval ship, Somers had died from his wounds. Two Al Qaeda fighters and at least nine civilians are also suspected to have lost their lives in the scuffle, which involved firefights with concussion grenades and several house-raids.
President Obama noted that despite the tragic outcome of this rescue mission, US forces would continue to use forceful tactics in attempts to bring Americans home safely. The president noted,
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.
Secretary of State John Kerry joined Obama in condemning the loss of life, stating, "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."
Outgoing Defense Secretary Hagel made sure to commend the bravery of the Americans who took part in the operation, saying,
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. I commend the troops who undertook this dangerous mission. Their service and valor are an inspiration to all of us.
Somers was described as "a gentle and sensitive person," who was "a romantic and always believe[d] the best in people," according to his sister, Lucy. In an earlier video pleading for his release, his mother said, "He is all that we have. Luke, if you are able to hear or see us, please know that we are doing everything possible to help you." His brother, Jordan, urged Al Qaeda forces to remember that "Luke is only a photojournalist, and he is not responsible for any actions the U.S. government has taken."
But Somers is yet another American civilian who has paid the ultimate price as collateral damage as the conflict between militants and Western forces continue to escalate.
Also caught in the crossfire was Mr. Korkie, who was tragically set to be released from captivity on Sunday. Officials in the region, along with disaster relief group Gift of the Givers had arranged for the South African teacher to return home by the end of the week, and the group recently informed his wife, "the wait is almost over." "Three days ago we told her 'Pierre will be home for Christmas,'" Gift of the Givers noted, "We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded."
There is no word yet on the fate of two other hostages held alongside Somers and Korkie, who are believed to be British and Turkish citizens.
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