UK-born US journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie have been killed by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen during a failed rescue bid. Saturday’s operation was carried by joint US and Yemeni special forces in the southern, Shabwa region. US President Barack Obama condemned Mr Somers’s death as a “barbaric murder”. They were being held by militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by the US as one of the deadliest offshoots of al-Qaeda. The group is based in eastern Yemen and has built up support amid the unrest which has beset the impoverished country since the overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.
President Obama said he authorised the raid to rescue Mr Somers and other hostages held in the same location. He said information had “indicated that Luke’s life was in imminent danger.” A number of militants were also killed in the operation. “Terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice,” Mr Obama said. A US official told the New York Times that Mr Somers, 33, was apparently shot by his captors as the raid unfolded and was badly wounded when the US forces reached him. By the time he was flown to a US naval ship in the region, he had died from his injuries, the official was quoted as saying. Mr Somers’ sister, Lucy Somers, told the Associated Press earlier that she had been notified by the FBI of his death. “We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” Lucy Somers told AP, speaking from London.
Meanwhile there are reports that Mr Korkie was expected to be released on Sunday. He was abducted with his wife Yolande in May last year in Yemen’s second city, Taiz. She was freed on 10 January without ransom and returned to South Africa. “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,” the charity Gift of the Givers said in a statement. “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.” Mr Somers, who was kidnapped in Yemen in 2013, appeared in a video this week appealing for help. The footage showed a member of AQAP threatening to kill him unless unspecified demands were met. Mr Somers worked as a journalist and photographer for local news organisations. His material appeared on international news outlets, including the BBC News website. He was kidnapped outside a supermarket in the Yemeni capital Sana’a in September 2013 and is believed to have been sold on to AQAP. “We are aware of reports of the death of Luke Somers and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time,” a BBC spokesperson said on Saturday. Another attempt to rescue Mr Somers last month had failed.