American, South African hostages killed in Yemen

Rescue operations ordered by US President fail as American photojournalist Luke Homers and South African Aid worker Pierre Korkie get kille

Sanaa (Yemen): An American photojournalist and a South African aid worker held by al-Qaida militants in Yemen have been killed during a failed US rescue attempt, authorities said on Saturday.

A File video grab taken from a propaganda video released by al-Malahem Media on December 4, 2014 shows US hostage Luke Somers, 33, calling for help and saying that his life is in danger. Pic/AFP

Speaking in Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “Luke Somers and a second non-US citizen hostage were murdered by al-Qaida militants during the raid. The aid group Gift of Givers later identified the second hostage as South African teacher Pierre Korkie, who the group said was to be released on Sunday. They said he was to be flown out of Yemen under diplomatic cover, and meet with family members in a safe’country, (and) fly to South Africa.”

Hagel did not identify Korkie by name.

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

Lucy Somers, the photojournalist’s sister, said that she and her father learned of her 33-year-old brother’s death from FBI agents at 0500 GMT on Saturday.

“We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” Lucy Somers said from London.

There was no immediate comment from security officials in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.

Yemen’s local al-Qaida branch, posted a video on Thursday that showed Somers, and a threat to kill him in three days if the United States didn't meet the group’s demands, which weren’t specified. He was kidnapped in September 2013 from Sanaa.

The news of the failed rescue comes after a suspected US drone strike in Yemen killed nine alleged al-Qaida militants early on Saturday, a Yemeni security official said before news of Somers’ death.

Later on Saturday, tribal leaders said they saw helicopters flying over an area called Wadi Abdan in Shabwa province.

Before her brother’s death, Lucy Somers released an online video describing him as a romantic who “always believes the best in people.” She ended with the plea: “Please let him live.”

In a statement, Somers’ father, Michael, also called his son “a good friend of Yemen and the Yemeni people” and asked for his safe release.

Korkie, on the other hand, was kidnapped in the Yemeni city of Taiz in May, along with his wife Yolande. His wife later was released and returned to South Africa. Those close to Korkie said al-Qaida militants demanded a $3 million ransom for his release.

“The psychological and emotional devastation to Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by al Qaida tomorrow,” Gift of Givers said in a statement on Saturday.

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