Luke Somers, an American freelance journalist held hostage by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed along with fellow hostage Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher, during a failed rescue attempt by U.S. special forces in the early morning of December 6, 2014, in the Shabwa province of Yemen, according to U.S. officials and news reports.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement the same day that the hostages were murdered by the militants during the operation to rescue them. U.S. officials said the captors were alerted to the approaching special forces team, perhaps by a barking dog, and shot the hostages, according to news reports. Medics were unable to save either hostage.
U.S. officials said the captors were likely on high alert after a failed attempt to rescue Somers in another special forces raid the previous month in Hadramawt. In a press release on December 4, 2014, National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Obama had authorized the first rescue operation in coordination with Yemeni security forces to save Somers and other hostages after receiving reliable intelligence of their location but that Somers was not present when the forces arrived.
According to news reports citing Yemeni officials, eight captives were freed in the first rescue operation after a gun battle with the militants but several other hostages, including Somers, were not rescued. The reports said the U.S. government had originally asked the media not to report on U.S. involvement in the raid for fear it would increase the danger to Somers.
The original raid led AQAP to acknowledge publicly for the first time that it was holding Somers, which the group did in a video released late at night on December 3, 2014. In the video, which was reviewed by CPJ before being removed from YouTube, Somers said he was kidnapped in Sana’a more than a year earlier and that his life was in danger. His statement was preceded by Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, one of the leaders of AQAP, saying that Somers “will meet his inevitable fate” unless the U.S. met the group’s unspecified demands.
Senior U.S. and Yemeni officials told ABC that they did not know what those demands were but speculated they may involve a prisoner exchange. U.S. officials cited the three-day deadline as the primary impetus for launching the second raid, according to news reports.
In a video released on December 4, 2014, Somers’ brother, Jordan, and mother, Paula, appealed for Somers’ release and said they did not know why Somers was being held. “Luke is only a photojournalist, and he is not responsible for any actions the U.S. government has taken,” his brother said in the video.
Somers was kidnapped on a busy street in the middle of Sana’a in September 2013, according to news reports. No group claimed responsibility, but Somers’ colleagues told CPJ at the time that they feared he was taken by Al-Qaeda or would be sold to them.
Somers, who was born in the U.K. and was an American citizen, moved to Yemen in 2010, where he soon began working as a freelance journalist, according to news reports. His coverage of the 2011 revolution in Yemen and its aftermath was published by international and local outlets including Al-Jazeera English, BBC, Foreign Policy, Inter Press Service, National Yemen, The New York Times, and Yemen Times. He also edited for more than one English-language Yemeni newspaper. At the time of his kidnapping, he was working in the media office as an English editor and translator for the National Dialogue Conference, a body formed as part of the reconciliation process after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in 2012. The BBC reported Somers had published a photo gallery of the national dialogue for the station just days before his kidnapping.