American Luke Somers, South African Pierre Korkie — Al Qaeda hostages in Yemen — fatally shot during rescue attempt ordered by President Obama
The President said he ordered the raid over an ‘imminent danger’ to Somers. Somers and Korkie were mortally wounded by their captors as the raid unfolded. Both died after being flown to a U.S. Navy ship in the region, according to officials.
A risky U.S. mission in Yemen collapsed Saturday when a barking dog spooked Al Qaeda terrorists — who coldly executed an American photojournalist and a second hostage targeted for rescue.
U.S. Special Operations Forces, including members of Navy SEAL Team 6, were headed to save journalist Luke Somers and South African aid worker Pierre Korkie in a pre-dawn raid.
But the dog began yapping and the gunfire erupted from within the walled Al Qaeda compound as the American team approached.
Somers, 33, was kidnapped by militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in September 2013 while working in Sanaa.
The group released a video Thursday vowing to kill Somers if the U.S. did not meet its demands, leaving the Obama administration with a super-tight deadline to make a move.
President Obama, who ordered the special ops mission, said in a statement that Somer’s life had been in “imminent danger.”
Yemen’s national security chief, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Ahmadi, said the militants planned to kill Somers on Saturday.
The failed rescue was the second attempt in 11 days to free the abductees from their captors. On Nov. 25, American and Yemeni forces raided a remote Al Qaeda stronghold — a cave near the Saudi border.
That mission freed eight captives and killed eight terrorists, but Somers and four others had been moved days earlier, officials later said.
About 40 U.S. Special Forces troops approached the site near Dafaar on foot, after arriving about 6 miles away aboard two CV-22 Osprey aircraft. The team advanced to about 300 feet of the compound when the dog reportedly barked. Then gunfire rang out.
Somers and Korkie were mortally wounded by their captors as the raid unfolded. Both died after being flown to a U.S. Navy ship in the region, according to officials.
The men were each shot several times by at least one of their retreating guards — and not in a crossfire, officials said.
Korkie was set to be released Sunday, according to disaster relief organization Gift of the Givers.
Korkie and his wife Yolande were kidnapped by the militants in Taiz, Yemen, in May 2013.
Yolande Korkie was released and returned to South Africa in January. At the time of the kidnapping, Korkie was working as a teacher and his wife did relief work in hospitals.
Somers, born in London, held dual citizenship in the U.S. and England and graduated in 2008 from Wisconsin’s Beloit College.
Somers, who was working as a translator for the National Dialogue Conference when he was kidnapped last year, was well-known for his photography work in the country, according to friend Fuad Al Kadas.
“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.
Al-Arashi, his editor at the Yemen Times, recalled a moment when Somers edited a story on other hostages held in the country. “He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t want to be a hostage,’” al-Arashi said. “‘I don’t want to be kidnapped.’”
Lucy Somers, the photojournalist’s sister, said that she and her father learned of her brother’s death from FBI agents. “We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” Lucy Somers said.
Obama expressed his sympathy to the Somers family in a statement Saturday. “On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke’s family and to his loved ones,” Obama said.
“I also offer my thoughts and prayers to the family of a non-U.S. citizen hostage who was also murdered by these terrorists during the rescue operation.”
The operation took place in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, an Al Qaeda stronghold. U.S. drones and fighter jets were overhead as ground forces carried out the mission, a Yemeni security official said.
Korkie, 56, was a dedicated teacher, a family friend said. “Teaching was his life. His heart took him to Yemen. He loved teaching the poor,” said Daan Nortier, who is acting as a family spokesman.
Yemen’s government issued a statement on state media that claimed its security forces had led the raid and four members were wounded.