U.S. and South African Hostages Killed in Rescue Attempt in Yemen

Luke Somers killed
A man, who identified himself as Luke Somers, speaks in this still image taken from video purportedly published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Reuters TV

SANAA (Reuters) - A U.S. journalist and a South African teacher held by al Qaeda militants in Yemen were killed during a rescue attempt by U.S. and Yemeni forces, senior officials said on Saturday.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said al Qaeda militants killed Luke Somers, 33, and another hostage during the rescue operation.

Major General Ali al-Ahmadi, chief of the national security bureau in Yemen, said Somers was killed during the raid and other hostages held by the group had been taken to field hospitals, but gave no details about them or their condition.

Somers was removed from the scene but died later from a wound he suffered during the rescue attempt, a senior official in the Yemeni president's office said.

Relief group Gift of the Givers said teacher Pierre Korkie was also killed.

"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," it said in a statement on its website.

Yemen's Defence Ministry had earlier said that a military operation had succeeded in freeing a U.S. hostage as well as killing 10 members of the al Qaeda group holding him.

The operation involved an air strike followed by a raid by U.S. and Yemeni forces, a local security official said. It took place in the Wadi Abdan Al Daqqar region of Shabwa Province in southern Yemen and targeted an al Qaeda group headed by Mubarak al-Harad.

Hagel said the attempt to free the captives was justified. "There were compelling reasons to believe Mr. Somers' life was in imminent danger," Hagel said in Kabul.

On Thursday, the United States said it had made a failed attempt last month to rescue Somers who was kidnapped in Sanaa in September 2013.

A video posted by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Wednesday purported to show Somers and threatened to kill him if unspecified demands were not met.

Al Qaeda and allied Islamist militants have a strong presence in large parts of southern and eastern Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula country where the government has little control outside main cities.