Luke Somers killed: Barack Obama condemns the 'barbaric murder' of British-born photojournalist by al-Qaeda

A second hostage, Pierre Korkie from South Africa, also died during the raid

Lizzie Dearden
Saturday 06 December 2014 09:55 GMT

A British-born photojournalist has been killed by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen during a failed rescue attempt by US special forces.

Luke Somers, 33, had been held hostage since being kidnapped in the capital, Sana’a, in September 2013 as he left a supermarket.

An official told the New York Times that Mr Somers was shot by his captors as the overnight raid unfolded and was badly wounded when the commandos reached him.

By the time Mr Somers was flown to a United States naval ship in the region, he had died from his injuries, the source said.

The outgoing US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said Mr Somers and "a second non-US citizen hostage were murdered” by al-Qaeda militants.

Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher, was named as the second captive by disaster relief group Gift of the Givers. He was kidnapped alongside his wife, who was released in January, by militants in Taiz in May last year and was reportedly due to be released on Sunday.

“Yesterday by the order of the president of the United States, US special operations forces conducted a mission in Yemen to rescue a US citizen Luke Somers and any other foreign nationals held hostage with him,” Mr Hagel said during a visit to Afghanistan. “There were compelling reasons to believe Somers' life was in imminent danger.”

Luke Somers appeared in an al-Qaeda video (YouTube)

President Barack Obama described Mr Somers' murder as "barbaric" in a statement reported by NBC News.

"The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists during a rescue operation conducted by US forces in Yemen in partnership with the Yemeni government.

"On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke's family and to his loved ones."

His captors had taunted his family after a previous attempt by American and Yemeni forces to free him, saying on Thursday they would execute him within three days if the US did not meet their demands.

Al-Qaeda released a video statement from Mr Somers, where he said: “I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation. I’m certain that my life is in danger."

Lucy Somers, his sister, told the Associated Press that FBI agents informed her he was killed on Saturday.

"We ask that all of Luke's family members be allowed to mourn in peace," she said.

She had released a video pleading with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to let him live, describing her older brother as a romantic who "always believes the best in people".

Mr Somers’ father, Michael, called his son "a good friend of Yemen and the Yemeni people" and asked for his safe release and his mother and brother appealed to his captors to spare him, saying he "was only trying to do good".

Fuad Al Kadas, who said the journalist was one of his best friends, said he spent time in Egypt before finding work in Yemen first as an English teacher and then as one of the few foreign photographers in the country.

“He is a great man with a kind heart who really loves the Yemeni people and the country,” Mr Al Kadas said. “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."

According to a statement initially released on the website of Yemen's defence ministry, a hostage rescue attempt on Saturday morning was successful.

A drone struck a suspected AQAP hideout at dawn in Yemen's southern Shabwa province, it said, and a subsequent raid freed an unnamed US hostage and killed 10 extremists.

It is believed the inconsistency arose because Mr Somers did not die until after he was pulled out and taken into the care of American forces.

No further details have emerged of Saturday's operation but the Pentagon admitted on Thursday that a secret raid last month had got the wrong location.

Special forces arrived at the target, in a remote al-Qaeda safe haven in the desert near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, to find Mr Somers was not there.

Yemen is racked by lawlessness and violence (AFP/Getty)

The American government considers AQAP to be the world's most dangerous arm of the international terrorist organisation after linking it to several failed attacks on US soil.

Mr Somers was born in Britain and holds dual US-UK citizenship. Having spent most of his life in the United States, he worked for two years in Yemen as a freelance photojournalist, sub-editor and interpreter for English language newspapers.

American authorities rarely discuss their controversial drone strike campaign in Yemen, which are known to cause civilian casualties, legitimising violent resistance against US intervention in the country.

Al-Qaeda and Islamist militants have gained a foothold in large parts of southern and eastern Yemen, where the government is struggling to exert control outside main cities.

Additional reporting by agencies

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