American captive in Yemen killed in rescue attempt

South African teacher Pierre Korkie was also killed during the rescue operation, a relief group that was negotiating his release said

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Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel confirmed on Saturday the death of al-Qaeda-held photojournalist Luke Somers during a rescue operation in Yemen.

A relief group said al-Qaeda militants killed another hostage during the operation, reported to be South African teacher Pierre Korkie.


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President Barack Obama said the U.S. condemned what he described as the "barbaric murder" of Somers by al-Qaeda.

"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," Relief group Gift of the Givers it said in a statement on its website.

Earlier, there were conflicting reports about the status of Somers who had been held by al-Qaeda.

The Yemeni defense ministry had said on its website that an operation by Yemen's armed forces early on Saturday freed photojournalist Luke Somers and led to the killing of 10 members of the militant group holding him, Reuters reported.

It said the operation took place in the Wadi Abdan al-Daqqar region of Shabwa Province in the southern part of the country.

But his sister Lucy Somers told The Associated Press that she learned of her 33-year-old brother’s death from FBI agents.

Meanwhile another account suggests Somers was wounded during the operation.

"American soldiers carried away the hostage. He was wounded and we don't know if he is dead or alive," the Yemeni official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

It is possible Somers died from injuries he sustained during the rescue operation, the New York Times reported.

Somers was kidnapped in September 2013 in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, where he had been working as a freelance photographer for the Yemen Times.

Al-Qaeda posted a video Thursday that showed Somers, 33, and a local al-Qaeda commander threatening that Somers would meet his fate in three days if the United States doesn’t meet the group’s demands, which weren’t specified.

In a video posted Saturday near London, Lucy Somers describes her older brother as a romantic who “always believes the best in people.” She ends with the plea: “Please let him live.”

In a statement, Somers’ father, Michael, calls his son “a good friend of Yemen and the Yemeni people” and asks for his safe release.

“When foreign nationals were advised to leave Yemen, Luke refused to go, saying he felt safe and at home there,” Lucy Somers said in her video. “He felt the Yemeni people would look after him.”

“Photojournalism has been his way of highlighting the struggles of the Yemeni people,” she said.

Michael Somers said his son “was confident that no one would harm him for his simplicity and honest friendship to all Yemenis around him.”

Luke Somers “told all his friends and loved ones stories of Yemenis’ generosity, humility and devoted friendship,” his father said, adding, “Luke’s life in Yemen these past three and a half years should not have ended with a kidnapping but with a great reward. The fact that he chose to live in Yemen and not the United States shows where his sympathies lay. Please bring Luke back to us safe and sound.”

Somers’ brother, Jordan, and mother, Paula, offered a similar message in an earlier video.

“My life is in danger,” Luke Somers said in the al-Qaiea footage, which appeared to mimic hostage videos released by al-Qaida’s rival, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. He asked for help.

In a statement Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby acknowledged for the first time that a raid last month had sought to rescue Somers but that he turned out not to be at the site.

White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also said President Barack Obama had authorized a rescue operation to free Somers and other hostages but “regrettably, Luke was not present.”

[With agencies]