The American freelance photographer kidnapped by Al Qaeda militants in Yemen in 2013 was ‘murdered’ Friday during a U.S. special operations rescue mission inside the country after it was learned that his life was in imminent danger, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a statement.
Luke Somers was still alive, but badly injured when the team reached him, a Yemeni national security official told Fox News. The official said Somers was shot by militants. None of the special forces members were injured.
Hagel said in the statement that the rescue bid was conducted in partnership with the Yemen’s government and its security forces.Ten militants were killed between the rescue attempt and the drone strike prior to the mission, the Yemeni official confirmed.
South African hostage Pierre Korkie was the other hostage killed in the operation, the Gift of the Givers, a South African aid group confirmed.
President Obama, who ordered the mission, released a statement early Saturday morning condemning the “barbaric murder” of Somers.
Lucy Somers, the photojournalist’s sister, told The Associated Press that she and her father learned of her 33-year-old brother’s death from FBI agents at 12 a.m. ET Saturday.
“We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” Lucy Somers said from London.
Yemen’s national security chief, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Ahmadi, said the militants planned to kill Luke Somers on 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.”
Yemen’s local Al Qaeda branch, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, posted a video Thursday that showed Somers, threatening to kill him in three days if the United States didn’t meet the group’s demands, which weren’t specified. He was kidnapped in September 2013 from Sanaa.
The news of the failed rescue comes after a suspected U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed nine alleged Al Qaeda militants early Saturday, a Yemeni security official said before news of Somers’ death. The drone struck at dawn in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, hitting a suspected militant hideout, the official said. The official did not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists.
Later Saturday, tribal leaders said they saw helicopters flying over an area called Wadi Abdan in Shabwa province.