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Middle East News
Two Hostages Killed in Rescue Bid in Yemen
From the Wall Street Journal of Sat, 06 Dec 2014 15:33:57 EST
American photojournalist Luke Somers was killed by his al Qaeda captors during a failed U.S. rescue mission on December 5. Photo/Video: AP

An American and a South African held hostage for more than a year by al Qaeda’s Yemen branch died after a raid by U.S. Special Operations forces just after midnight Saturday, in the second rescue attempt in as many weeks.

Luke Somers, 33 years old, was mortally shot by militants during the raid, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday. South African teacher Pierre Korkie also was shot during the raid, according to a charity that had been trying to help negotiate his release. Both hostages died later after U.S. forces evacuated them from the building where they were held, U.S. and Yemeni officials said.

Several members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, were killed in the raid, U.S. officials said.

Mr. Hagel said the raid was ordered by President Barack Obama because “there were compelling reasons to believe Mr. Somers’ life was in imminent danger.”

The raid took place after AQAP had warned it would kill Mr. Somers if U.S. forces attempted another “foolish” rescue attempt, in a video statement released Thursday. In the video, an AQAP commander threatened to kill Mr. Somers by the end of the week if the group’s unspecified demands weren’t met.

Although AQAP’s requests to the U.S. government are unknown, the group frequently asks for ransom payments or prisoner exchanges. Under U.S. law, ransom payments to terrorist groups are illegal, and American officials have threatened victims’ family members with legal action in the past if they meet kidnappers’ requests.

South African charity Gift of the Givers featured the news of Mr. Korkie’s death on its website Saturday. “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,” said the charity’s founder, Imtiaz Sooliman.

An undated picture provided the Gift of the Givers charity group shows South African Pierre Korkie, a hostage who was killed in a U.S. rescue attempt in Yemen.
An undated picture provided the Gift of the Givers charity group shows South African Pierre Korkie, a hostage who was killed in a U.S. rescue attempt in Yemen. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Obama offered his condolences to the families of the hostages.

“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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “And terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice.”

Mr. Somers was born in the U.K. and lived most of his adult life in the U.S. He was kidnapped in September 2013 in the Yemeni capital, San’a, as he left a grocery store one evening, a friend said.

Mr. Somers first moved to Yemen in 2010 to teach English. As the Arab Spring protests enveloped the country, he began taking photos to document the revolution in San’a, turning his lifelong hobby of photography into a budding career as a photojournalist.

“He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He cared about Yemenis more than any other journalist I’ve ever met,” said an American friend of Mr. Somers’s from her home in San’a. “He dedicated the last years of his life to the people in Yemen. He never left the country in that time to see his family. He was really dedicated to documenting the revolution and its aftermath.”

Mr. Sooliman said Mr. Korkie and his wife, Yolande, were taken hostage in Taiz, Yemen, in May 2013. Ms. Korkie was released in January of this year.

Mr. Sooliman said his group had struck a deal for Mr. Korkie to be released in a matter of days.

“The psychological and emotional devastation to Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by al Qaeda tomorrow. 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,” he wrote.

A spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry didn’t return calls seeking comment about any plans to secure Mr. Korkie’s release. A U.S. defense official said the U.S. military had no information on any deal to free the South African hostage or on who was being held by the militants along with Mr. Somers.

—Patrick McGroarty in Johannesburg contributed to this article.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and Maria Abi-Habib at maria.habib@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications

Luke Somers first moved to Yemen in 2010. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said he moved to Yemen in 2011.



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