- Luke Somers, 33, was being held hostage by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen
- Reportedly shot by captors as U.S. commandos launched the operation
- Navy SEAL Team Six hiked six miles to the village where he was held
- They were only 100 yards away when they were detected by militants
- Reports suggest a dog bark alerted the terrorists to their presence
- He was flown to a U.S. naval ship but died from injuries before his arrival
- Comes days after militants threatened to kill him on a video posted online
- His family had earlier pleaded with the militants to ‘please, show mercy’
- Mr Somers was kidnapped in September 2013 in Yemen’s capital Sana’a
- South African Pierre Korkie also killed during mission in Shabwa province
- The aid worker was reportedly due to be released by militants tomorrow
A British-born U.S. photojournalist and a South African aid worker held hostage in Yemen by al Qaeda militants have been ‘murdered’ in a failed rescue attempt.
American citizen Luke Somers had been held hostage since September 2013 in Yemen’s capital Sana’a having moved to the country two years earlier.
The 33-year-old was reportedly shot by his captors as Navy SEAL Team six, made up of around 40 men, carried out a dramatic rescue bid in the Wadi Abdan region of the southern Shabwa province late on Friday night.
It is the second attempted extraction by special forces in as many months.
Another hostage, South African aid worker Pierre Korkie, was also killed during the operation – a day before he was due to be released.
According to the Wall Street Journal the commandos hiked for six miles through a mountain range to reach the village where he was being held.
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Lucy Somers said she learned of her 33-year-old brother Luke Somers’ death from FBI agents
In April 2013 he took photos of a protest by Yemenis, demanding the release of Guantanamo Bay trainees
They were only 100 yards away from the compound when the terrorists reportedly heard a dog bark – prompting the militants to shoot the pair dead.
Two medics involved in the operation tried to revive both of the hostages, but one died at the scene while the other succumbed to his injuries on the operating table inside the USS Makin Island.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed Mr Somers death this morning as he landed in Afghanistan.
During a press conference he announced that 1,000 more US troops than expected will be stationed in the country next year following a spike in Taliban attacks.
Mr Somers was badly wounded when commandos found him and he died from his injuries by the time he had been flown to a naval ship.
Mr Somers’ sister Lucy Somers told Associated Press that she learned of her brother’s death from FBI agents at 5am this morning. ‘We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,’ she said from London.
An Osprey aircraft took a team of U.S. Navy SEALS to the location, which was close to the site where a previous rescue mission had taken place, officials told CNN.
A gun fight is understood to have unfolded before the badly injured hostages were taken away on the aircraft, the report says.
Four Yemeni and CTU agents were wounded during the operation.
According to the New York Times the forces raided four houses in the village where the attack took place, killed six militants but also gunned down eight civilians.
Mr Somers was kidnapped in September 2013 as he left a supermarket in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, said Fakhri al-Arashi, chief editor of the National Yemen.
He had moved to the country in 2010 to teach English as the Arab Spring started to develop but soon became one of the country’s only foreign photographers.
The hostage worked at the paper as a copy editor and a freelance photographer during the 2011 uprising in Yemen.
There are reports Mr Somers was sold to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – one of the most dangerous regional arms of the terrorist group.
The organisation make millions ransoming hostages – but British and American governments refuse to pay.
On November 25, U.S Special Forces sent a unit to a cave near the Yemen border with Saudi Arabia in a hope of retrieving Mr Somers. Seven hostages were saved and eight militants were killed but the journalist was not inside.
The U.S. considers Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch to be the world’s most dangerous arm of the group as it has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. homeland.
Barack Obama described Mr Somers’ murder as ‘barbaric’ in a statement this morning.
‘On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke’s family and to his loved ones,’ he said in a statement.
The Defense Department said the rise in violence did not prompt the decision to keep troops in the country.
An official statement said it was due to the late signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement, which allows a specified amount of U.S. troops to remain after the combat mission ends this year.
Hamid Karzai, Ghani’s predecessor, refused to sign the deal.
According to The Pentagon, 99 per cent of Afghan forces are now taking the lead in missions and are performing ‘well’.
By 2016 the number of troops will have decreased to 5,500 before a further transition to power in Kabul by 2017.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement today saying Somers’ murder ‘is a reminder of the brutality of the terrorists of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They have again demonstrated their cruelty and their disdain for human life, freedom, and the Yemeni people whom they terrorize daily.’
Kerry said he’s ‘proud of the brave men and women of the U.S. military who twice risked their lives in operations to try and bring Luke home safely.
‘We also appreciate the efforts of the dedicated intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic professionals who supported these operations, and we are particularly grateful to the Yemeni government, under the leadership of President Hadi, for their critical and supportive role in trying to liberate this young American from unfathomable captivity, and for their enduring partnership in combating the scourge of AQAP.’
The AWAP terrorists know ‘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,’ Kerry said.
Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would be relentless in its efforts to bring the killers of an American photojournalist to justice.
Echoing the words of the President he called the killing of Mr Somers a ‘despicable crime’.
He says U.S. special forces soldiers ‘inflicted serious damage’ on Somers captors.
Biden commented Saturday during a previously scheduled address to a Washington conference on U.S.-Israeli relations.
AID WORKER WAS KILLED ‘A DAY BEFORE HE WAS DUE TO BE RELEASED’
South African Pierre Korkie was killed in the attempted rescue mission by the United States – just a day before he was due to be released, an aid group says.
Mr Korkie was killed in the failed effort to release hostages, Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the Gift of the Givers group told the South African Press Agency.
Korkie was to be freed by al-Qaeda on Sunday, Gift of the Givers said on Twitter.
South African Pierre Korkie was killed in the attempted rescue mission by the United States – just a day before he was due to be released. His wife Yolande is pictured right
‘Leaders met in Aden this morning, preparing final security and logistical arrangements 2 bring Pierre 2 safety & freedom,’ said tweeted the aid group.
Mr Korkie and his wife Yolande were taken hostage in Taiz, Yemen, in May 2013, the charity said.
A team had met in Aden this morning, preparing final security and logistical arrangements 2 bring the hostage to freedom, it claimed.
‘It is even more tragic that the words we used in a conversation with Yolande at 5.59 this morning was ‘the wait is almost over’,’ the charity tweeted to its 7,500 followers.
It added:’Three days ago we told her ‘Pierre will be home for Christmas’.
‘We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded.
‘All logistical arrangements were in place 2 safely fly Pierre out of Yemen under diplomatic cover.’
At the time of the kidnapping, Mr Korkie was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife was working in hospitals, News24 reports.
Those close to Mr Korkie said al-Qaeda militants had demanded a $3million ransom for his release.
British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond said: ‘My deepest condolences are with the families of both hostages at this time. We utterly condemn AQAP for the brutal murder of these two men.
‘Luke had close links with the UK and his family have spoken about Luke’s life and his work, and that is how he should be remembered.
‘I salute the forces involved, who showed great courage in carrying out this mission. We continue to work with our international and Yemeni partners to counter the threat from Al Qaida and other terrorist groups.’
The humanitarian group Gift of Givers said today that teacher Pierre Korkie was shot dead during the bid to rescue Mr Somers – just a day before he was set to be freed.
Mr Korkie and his wife Yolande were reportedly captured by militants in May 2013 in Ta’iz, Yemen. But his wife was released after Gift of the Givers helped negotiate her freedom.
On Friday, a team of local leaders was finalizing arrangements to reunite Pierre Korkie to his wife and children, the statement reads.
The charity recently told his wife that ‘the wait is almost over.’
Militants released a video on Thursday that showed Mr Somers, threatening to kill him in three days if the United States did not meet the group’s demands
‘Three days ago we told her ‘Pierre will be home for Christmas,” the group said. ‘We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded.’
Yemen’s national security chief, Major General Ali al-Ahmadi, said the militants planned to kill Luke Somers on Saturday, meaning the American and Yemeni forces faced a race against time.
‘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.
Earlier this week al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued a video with a message aimed at the US government threatening to kill Mr Somers if its demands were not met.
Last week the U.S. said it had attempted a rescue operation to free a number of hostages, including Mr Somers, but that he had not been at the site of the raid.
The family of Mr Somers had earlier pleaded for him to be released.
In an online video Miss Somers described her older brother as a romantic who ‘always believes the best in people.’ She added: ‘Please let him live.’
His father Michael said Mr Somers was ‘a good friend of Yemen and the Yemeni people’.
It came after the release of the AQAP video which begins with a reading in Arabic from Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, an AQAP official, before Mr Somers appears and gives a statement in English.
He said: ‘My name is Luke Somers. I’m 33 years old. I was born in England, but I carry American citizenship and have lived in America for most of my life.
‘It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been kidnapped in Sana’a. Basically, I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation. I’m certain that my life is in danger.
‘So as I sit here now, I ask if anything can be done, please let it be done. Thank you very much.’
Al Ansi gave the US government three days to meet the demands or ‘otherwise, the American hostage held by us will meet his inevitable fate’.
The three-minute video also features Ansi speaking about American activity in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq as well as recent air strikes in Syria.
It follows similar videos by another extremist militant group, Islamic State (IS), which has already killed two British hostages and three American hostages in videos released on social media.
A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH ‘WANDERLUST’ AND DRAWN TO NEW EXPERIENCES
Luke Somers had been working as a freelance photographer when he was captured, and those who knew him say he had ‘wanderlust’ and was drawn to new experiences.
Mr Somers, who was born in Britain, earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing while attending Beloit College in Wisconsin from 2004 through 2007.
‘He really wanted to understand the world,’ said Shawn Gillen, an English professor and chairman of Beloit College’s journalism program.
Fuad Al Kadas, who said Somers is one of his best friends, said Somers spent time in Egypt before finding work in Yemen. Somers started teaching English at a Yemen school but quickly established himself as a one of the few foreign photographers in the country, he said.
‘He is a great man with a kind heart who really loves the Yemeni people and the country,’ Al Kadas wrote in an email from Yemen. He said he last saw Somers the day before he was kidnapped.
‘He was so dedicated in trying to help change Yemen’s future, to do good things for the people that he didn’t leave the country his entire time here,’ Al Kadas wrote.
Al Kadas said in Yemen, Somers enjoyed making friends with neighbors, youth activists and ordinary people.
American commandos tried to rescue Mr Somers (pcitred) in a raid on an AQAP camp late last month, but he had been moved by the time they arrived
Gillen said Somers wanted to seek out experiences that would matter to him, noting he traveled to Egypt as part of the school’s study abroad program. The professor said he wasn’t surprised when he heard Somers had moved to Yemen.
‘He’d want to be in places where world events were happening,’ the professor said, adding that liberal arts instructors want their students ‘to go on and lead meaningful, purposeful lives. Luke was trying to do that. That makes (his capture) all the more horrible for us to ponder.’
Gillen said Somers was in his advanced non-fiction writing course and a small-group seminar that focused on William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. He said Somers would often stop by his office just to chat.
‘He would come by and say, ‘I was walking across campus and I was thinking about something Joyce wrote,’ and he’d want to talk about it. In many ways that’s a professor’s dream come true,’ Gillen said.
Friends of Mr Somers (pictured) said he had ‘wanderlust’ and was drawn to new experiences
In 2007, Somers worked as an editor at The Teaching Drum Outdoors School in Three Lakes, Wisconsin.
Tamarack Song, the school’s director, said Somers was hired to edit a book for the school. He came to the school with his girlfriend who also was an editor.
‘He was born in England, raised in America. He had wanderlust,’ Song said. ‘He wanted to know what made people tick. He has an undying curiosity for human dynamics and for the way people worked. He was constantly doing research.’
I think Luke would have wanted issues of extremism and terrorism to be addressed by stepping up the dialogue instead of resorting to conflict between nations
Penny Bearman, Mr Somers’ stepmother
Song said he thought Yemen and the Middle East was a symbol for Somers, and that Somers wanted to be at the epicenter of culture and ideology.
Song said he speculates that Somers went ‘to be where the action was, to get a feel for the pulse of contemporary conflict.’
‘He wanted to be in the center of things, and to get a feel for it. To get closer and closer, to interview people, to research, to write, to get right there,’ Song said.
Penny Bearman, the step-mother of the hostage, paid tribute to her husband’s son following his death.
She told ITV News: ‘Luke’s taste for travel grew early on in life. He was born in London to an American Mother who returned to the States with him when he was 7 years old, visiting his father each year in Deal, Kent.
‘As a young man he worked Salmon Fishing in the Arctic, lived for a time in Jamaica, witnessed riots in Cairo and moved to Yemen in 2011.
‘He was a talented photographer with a sensitivity for people and people’s lives and made a considerable contribution as a photo journalist in telling the stories of communities in war-torn areas.
‘Recently he lived in Sana’a the capital city of Yemen, living as a well-loved and respected member of the community there. He has extensive coverage of the area online, illustrating and expressing the struggles of the Yemen people.
‘I think Luke would have wanted issues of extremism and terrorism to be addressed by stepping up the dialogue instead of resorting to conflict between nations.’
During his time in Trenchtown, a municipality in Jamaica, he was involved in a number of projects where he captured photos of citizens around the town.
IS has posted a series of videos online showing the separate murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, US aid worker Peter Kassig and two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning.
Foley, who was beheaded in by the terrorists in August, was reportedly the subject of another failed rescue mission in July.
Following his death, White House counterterrorism adviser told the press: ‘The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens.
‘Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.’
The Obama administration was accused of knowing where Foley was five weeks before the extraction attempt in July and questions have been raised as to why they hesitated.
Luke Somers’ sister Lucy appeals to captors for his release
A former military official told Fox that when the team ‘finally did go’ into Syria to try and save Foley and a number of other hostages they felt the intelligence was ‘drying up’.
Footage claiming to show Mr Henning’s murder appeared on the internet just days after the UK joined US-led air strikes against the terrorists in Iraq.
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 security official said.
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 authorised to brief journalists.
At least six suspected militants were killed in an airstrike in the same province last month.
Later Saturday, tribal leaders said they saw helicopters flying over an area called Wadi Abdan in Shabwa province.
Family of Luke Somers begs for mercy
Begging for mercy: Luke’s brother, Jordan (left), and his mother, Paula Somers (right), released a video on Thursday asking his al-Qaeda captors to release him
American authorities rarely discuss their drone strike campaign in Yemen.
The strikes are incredibly unpopular in Yemen due to civilian casualties, legitimising for many the attacks on American interests.
In a statement on Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby acknowledged for the first time that a mysterious U.S. raid last month had sought to rescue Mr Somers but that he turned out not to be at the site.
Kirby did not elaborate on the joint U.S-Yemeni operation to free Mr Somers, saying details remained classified.
However, officials have said the raid targeted a remote al-Qaeda safe haven in a desert region near the Saudi border. Eight captives – including Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian – were freed.
Mr Somers, and five others had been moved days earlier
US discloses failed attempt to rescue American in Yemen
‘LUKE NEVER WAVERED FROM THE FONT LINES’: COLLEAGUE PAYS TRIBUTE TO SLAIN HOSTAGE AS SOME OF HIS WORK IS RELEASED
After hearing of Luke Somers’ death, friend and colleague Tik Root paid tribute to the photojournalist on PBS.
He said: ‘Luke never wavered from the front lines. He spent countless hours documenting revolutionaries in Sanaa’s Change Square and snapped photos ranging from Yemen’s former president to children afflicted with malnutrition.
‘His work provides a gripping window into a country rarely on the world’s radar. It also reveals his deep and persistent love for the country.
‘I knew Luke. Not particularly well. But during my 15 months as a fellow freelancer in Yemen, we crossed paths on perhaps a dozen or so occasions — both social and professional. Quirky, passionate and thoughtful, he also struck me as a fairly private guy.’
He also revealed some of the pictures he liked while Mr Somers worked with Demotix.
Here is a collection of his work while in the Middle East – including striking photos of children, protesters and politicians.
A young boy from the Home Care Orphanage in Sana’a, Yemen, participates in a drawing competition in July 2012
Houthi followers reach the conclusion of a march in Sana’a, with eleven days to go before they celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed in January 2013
Shi’ite Houthis marched in Sana’a in anticipation of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, ‘Mawlid An-Nabi’ in Arabic, which in 2013 fell on January 29
Women are controlled by security in August 2012 as they enter the residence of a family which, every year during Ramadan, distributes charity in the form of cash to Sana’a’s poor and needy
During a demonstration near Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s Sana’a residence in December 2012, a female protester holds up a picture of former president Ibrahim al-Hamdi, a beloved figure for many Yemeni citizens
Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdul-Latif Al-Zayani speaks with United States Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein about Yemen’s upcoming National Dialogue in January 2013
Tribesmen loyal to the powerful al-Ahmar family stand outside the family compound in Sana’a, Yemen in December 2012
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