Photojournalist Luke Somers, a hostage held captive by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for the past fifteen months, was killed by his captors as U.S. Special Forces attempted a rescue Saturday morning. According to The New York Times, Seal Team Six went into a village in southern Yemen to rescue Somers and South African hostage Pierre Korkie, but were unable to get close enough to prevent the terrorists from shooting and mortally wounding both hostages before they could prevent it.
President Obama authorized the raid after AQAP released this video, in which Somers asks for help, and in which his captors set Saturday, December 6, as the date they would kill Somers if their unspecified demands were not met:
In a statement, President Obama said that the deadline was a deciding factor in authorizing the raid. "Since his capture, the United States has been using every tool at our disposal to secure his release," the President said. "Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours. Other information also indicated that Luke’s life was in imminent danger. Based on this assessment, and as soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorized a rescue attempt yesterday. I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke."
The AQAP threat followed another rescue attempt by U.S. and Yemeni forces in November that succeeded in rescuing eight non-American hostages, but Somers had been moved by the time that operation could be executed. It is that raid which AQAP referenced toward the end of this week's video. White House Press Secretary Josh earnest, this week, fended off several attempts by the press to affix blame for that raid's failure to rescue Somers on the White House. On Thursday, Fox News' Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry asked Earnest if the raid was "another sign the President’s efforts to take out al Qaeda inside Yemen have been failing?"
Earnest: "The fact that this mission was carried out with Yemeni military personnel is an indication that there is a solid, constructive working relationship between Yemeni soldiers and American security officials. And the fact that the raid did succeed in recovering some hostages is an indication that this is a mission that they were able to carry out successfully."
On Friday, several reporters, including Henry, tried to fix blame on the White House for delaying that earlier mission until Somers was no longer there. Earnest wasn't able to go into much detail due to the classified nature of the raid, but did strongly deny there was any delay by the White House:
"(W)hat I would reject in the strongest possible terms is that there was any delay here at the White House in approving this mission."
"(T)here was careful interagency consideration that was given to this plan after it was signed off on by the Secretary of Defense. But I can tell you that it was something that was approved by the Commander-in-Chief after that review in much less than 48 hours."
The killing of Luke Somers is sure to lead to similar questions in the week to come.
Here is the President's full statement on the death of Luke Somers (via email from The White House):
Statement by the President on the Death of Luke Somers
The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of Al-Qa’ida terrorists during a rescue operation conducted by U.S. 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. 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. Their despair and sorrow at this time are beyond words.
It is my highest responsibility to do everything possible to protect American citizens. As this and previous hostage rescue operations demonstrate, the United States will spare no effort to use all of its military, intelligence, and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located. And terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice.
Luke Somers was kidnapped fifteen months ago in Yemen and held hostage by Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Since his capture, the United States has been using every tool at our disposal to secure his release. Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours. Other information also indicated that Luke’s life was in imminent danger. Based on this assessment, and as soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorized a rescue attempt yesterday. I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.
Luke was a photojournalist who sought through his images to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world. He came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organization. The callous disregard for Luke’s life is more proof of the depths of AQAP’s depravity, and further reason why the world must never cease in seeking to defeat their evil ideology.
As Commander-in-Chief, I am grateful to the U.S. forces who carried out this mission as well as the previous attempt to rescue Luke, and to the dedicated intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts. I also deeply appreciate the support and assistance provided by President Hadi and the Yemeni government, and reiterate our strong commitment to combating the shared threat posed by AQAP.
We remember Luke and his family, as well as the families of those Americans who are still being held captive overseas and those who have lost loved ones to the brutality of these and other terrorists. We remain determined to do our utmost to bring them home, and to hold those who have done them harm accountable.