An American freelance photojournalist taken hostage last year by an al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen was killed during a failed rescue operation conducted by U.S. special forces early Saturday, officials said.
Another hostage, Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher, was also killed in the raid, officials said.
President Obama issued a statement Saturday morning condemning the slayings.
“Luke was a photojournalist who sought through his images to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world,” Obama said. “He came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organization.”
“I offer my deepest condolences to Luke’s family and to his loved ones,” the president said.
Both Somers and Korkie were fatally wounded by their captors during the raid, officials said.
U.S special forces conducted the mission in partnership with Yemeni authorities.
Obama authorized the mission on Friday after officials determined that Somers’ life was “in imminent danger.” AQAP had released a video earlier this week threatening to kill the journalist within 72 hours if the U.S. government did not meet its demands, which were not specified.
“My life is in danger,” Somers was reportedly quoted as saying in the video.
“Based on this assessment, and as soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorized a rescue attempt yesterday,” Obama said. “I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.”
A senior official told the New York Times that Somers was “badly wounded” when U.S. forces finally reached him. He was being flown to a U.S. naval ship in the area, but died from his injuries, the Times reported.
Somers was taken captive in September 2013.
After the AQAP video was made public, the Pentagon released its own statement acknowledging a previous rescue attempt last month, which was also unsuccessful. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said “some hostages were rescued, but others—including Somers—were not present at the targeted location.”
Somers’ brother, Jordan, and his mother published their own video this week, pleading for mercy.
“Luke has spent the last two years making Yemen his home, he’s a good person and he’s only been trying to do good things for the Yemeni population,” Jordan said. “He goes out of his way to care for and respect the common person and he’s made many lasting friends in Yemen. Luke is only a photojournalist and he’s not responsible for any actions the U.S. government has taken.”
Somers’ mother thanked her son’s captors for taking “good care of Luke” and pleaded for his release.
“Please show mercy and give us an opportunity to see our Luke again,” she said.
— @NSCPress (@NSCPress) December 6, 2014
Somers is the third American journalist to have been killed at the hands of terrorists this year. James Foley and Steven Sotloff were both killed by the Islamic State, and video of their slayings were posted on the Internet.
“Luke Somers went to Yemen to bring us the news. Instead he became the news at the hands of militants who increasingly use journalists as pawns in a murderous political game,” the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom group, said in a statement. “As journalists we must rally to continue the work of our fallen colleagues, to seek justice in their names, and to protect all those who go out in the field every day despite the danger.”