Al-Qaida hostages Luke Somers, Pierre Korkie killed in rescue attempt

World Today

Al-Qaida hostages Luke Somers of the United States and Paul Korkie of South Africa were both killed Saturday in a rescue operation conducted in Yemen by U.S. forces in partnership with Yemen’s government.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday he authorized the rescue attempt because the U.S. had information that the Somers’ life was in imminent danger. Somers, a photojournalist, was kidnapped in September 2013, while Korkie, a teacher, was kidnapped in May 2013.

CCTV America’s Nathan King reported this story from Washington, D.C.

Al-Qaida hostages Luke Somers, Pierre Korkie killed in rescue attempt

Al-Qaida hostages Luke Somers of the United States and Paul Korkie of South Africa were both killed Saturday in a rescue operation conducted in Yemen by U.S. forces in partnership with Yemen's government.

Obama cited the captors’ video threatening to kill Somers within 72 hours and said “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,” Obama said in a White House statement.

Shortly before the statement, Yemen’s national security chief said militants had planned to kill Somers on Saturday. On Thursday, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula also posted a video online threatening to kill the American.

The president said the U.S. “will spare no effort to use all its military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located.”

Luke Somers in July 2013. (AP Photo/Jaber Ahmad Ghrab)

Luke Somers in July 2013. (AP Photo/Jaber Ahmad Ghrab)

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he received continuous updates on the U.S. commando raid to rescue the hostages while aboard a military aircraft traveling from Washington to Kabul, Afghanistan, in Hagel’s last visit to the country. The defense secretary approved the plan for Obama’s consideration before leaving Washington, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Hagel said during a news conference in Afghanistan that the rescue operation was “extremely well executed,” and was complicated and risky.

Somers, 33, had been working as a freelance photographer and editor in Yemen, and those who knew him say he had “wanderlust” and was drawn to new experiences.

Lucy Somers told The Associated Press Saturday that that she learned of her 33-year-old brother’s death from FBI agents.

U.S. special forces had tried to rescue Somers last month in a mysterious U.S. raid, but that he was not at the site, the Pentagon’s spokesman acknowledged Thursday.

“My life is in danger,” Somers said in video footage, which appeared to mimic hostage videos released by the Islamic State group.

Somers, who was born in Britain, earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing while attending Beloit College in Wisconsin from 2004-2007.

“He really wanted to understand the world,” said Shawn Gillen, an English professor and chairman of Beloit College’s journalism program. “He’d want to be in places where world events were happening.”

Gillen said Somers was in his advanced non-fiction writing course and a small-group seminar that focused on William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. He said Somers would often stop by his office just to chat.

“He would come by and say, ‘I was walking across campus and I was thinking about something Joyce wrote,’ and he’d want to talk about it. In many ways that’s a professor’s dream come true,” Gillen said.

Undated photo provided by the Korkie family, of South African Pierre Korkie.

Undated photo provided by the Korkie family, of South African Pierre Korkie.

Pierre Korkie, 56, had been held captive for 18 months by al-Qaida in Yemen, when he was killed in Saturday’s rescue attempt, according to the non-governmental group Gift of the Givers. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Korkie was kidnapped in the Yemeni city of Taiz along with his wife Yolande, who was doing relief work there. She was released in January without ransom as a result of negotiations by a South African relief group.

Negotiators said they had reached agreement for Pierre Korkie to be released Sunday. However al-Qaida militants demanded a $3 million ransom for Korkie’s release, according to those close to the negotiations. Although the ransom demand was dropped, the kidnappers demanded a “facilitation fee,” according to the aid group. The undisclosed amount was raised by Korkie’s family and friends, according to the South African Press Agency (SAPA).

“A team of Abyan (Yemeni) leaders met in Aden this morning and were preparing the final security and logistical arrangements, related to hostage release mechanisms, to bring Pierre to safety and freedom,” said Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers. “It is even more tragic that the words we used in a conversation with Yolande at 5:59 this morning was: ‘The wait is almost over.'”

“You can’t blame anybody for this,” Sooliman said. “You can’t accuse or blame them (the U.S. forces). It’s just unfortunate that it happened.”

Korkie was a dedicated teacher, said a family friend.

“Teaching was his life. His heart took him to Yemen. He loved teaching the poor,” Daan Nortier, who was acting as a family spokesman, said.

Korkie’s body was being held by U.S. forces and the South African government will work with the U.S. military and the Yemeni government for the repatriation of his remains, according to Nelson Kgwete, spokesman of South Africa’s Department of International Relations.

Story compiled from CCTV America and AP reports.