AQAP murders 2 hostages, including an American, during US rescue attempt

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) killed American photojournalist Luke Somers and Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher, during a hastily organized rescue attempt by US forces that took place in southern Yemen earlier today. The raid was authorized after AQAP had threatened to kill Somers within 72 hours unless its demands were met.

The rescue attempt and the hostages’ deaths were announced by the US Department of Defense in a press release. The operation “was quickly but thoroughly planned,” after being authorized by President Barack Obama and the Yemeni government on Dec. 5.

“US Special Operations forces were close to the Yemeni compound when al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists detected them and murdered American Luke Somers and another Western hostage,” the press release stated. “The Yemeni government approved the operation and gave its full support.”

“Military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists pinpointed where AQAP was holding the hostages and the threat the terrorists posed to them,” the statement continues. “Intelligence indicated AQAP planned to murder the hostages within 72 hours, giving added impetus to the attempt.”

The Department of Defense provided some details on the rescue operation. Forty American “special operators” assaulted a “remote compound” in the southern province of Shabwa, an AQAP stronghold, after being dropped off by CV-22 Ospreys “under the cover of darkness.” The operation lasted for at least one hour.

“AQAP terrorists detected the special operators as they began their final approach to the compound and they began firing wildly at the Americans,” the statement says. An AQAP fighter entered the buildings where the hostages were held and shot them.

The special operations forces overran the building and found Somers and Korkie, both of whom were shot but still alive. The two freed captives were flown to the USS Makin Island. “Surgeons and medics worked on the two men on the way to the ship, but one died en route and the other on the operating table,” the statement says.

AQAP threatened to kill Somers

Somers was captured by AQAP in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a one year ago. US special operations forces attempted to rescue Somers and other hostages during a raid in the Hajr as-Say’ar district of Hadramout province during the night between Nov. 24 and Nov. 25. Eight hostages were rescued in that operation, but Somers had been moved prior to the raid.

AQAP reacted to that operation in a speech by senior AQAP leader Nasser bin Ali al Ansi that was released on Dec. 4. In the videotaped speech, Ansi threatened to kill Somers if the US did not give in to a number of undisclosed demands.

Somers then appeared in the video and pled for his life. [See LWJ report, AQAP threatens to execute American hostage.]

“It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been kidnapped in Sana’a,” Somers said in the video. “Basically, I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation. I am certain my life is in danger. So as I sit here now, I ask, if anything can be done, please let it be done.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • M3fd2002 says:

    I support the decision to move on actionable intelligence, regardless of the results. Good call.

  • Evan says:

    Absolute cowardice perpatrated by absolute cowards.
    These terrorists aren’t warriors. They are not honorable in any fashion, or form.
    Anyone unfortunate enough to be captured by these scum needs to have the awareness and fortitude to resign themselves to the fact that they are going to die shortly.
    I’m not saying that they should be tame, and allow themselves to be slaughtered, just the opposite.
    They should fight and claw and scratch and bite and do whatever they can to hurt their captors and/or escape at every single opportunity. If there aren’t any opportunities, create one.
    Is it better to die bloodied and screaming into your enemies faces with defiance after you’ve absolutely given them hell over the duration of your captivity, or beg into a camera and plead with uncaring politicians for your life, do nothing to save yourself or others, and simply hope that you’re somehow rescued by someone.
    A year? 365 opportunities to escape. 365 opportunities to kill your enemy and save yourself. I would rather die in the first 5 minutes, because I’m fighting and scratching and biting and clawing and doing whatever i can, than to live for a year as a hostage or captive to these brainless islamo fascist terrorists, being humiliated, tortured, etc.
    I’m glad to see some US gunfighters are out there putting the boots to the bad guys. The entire situation in Yemen is just flat out crazy. I don’t know what to make of any of it just yet.
    But, as the Yemeni military is receding, and AQAP is becoming more and more brazen and emboldened, there’s going to be a real need for more ops like this one. More boots on the ground. Drone strikes just aren’t going to cut it anymore unless their complemented by DA raids to develop intel streams. I don’t see how we can continue to coordinate with the pretty much non existent Yemeni government, because theyve teamed up with the Houthis, along with some units in the yemeni military, and the Houthis, specifically their political front, Ansar something, is a designated FTO, if I’m not mistaken. So, where do we go from here? Who do we work with? Do we act unilaterally?

  • Ron says:

    Merrry Christmas. Another fail from obama

  • irebukeu says:

    I often wondered in the 1980s how the Afghans were able to hide from, evade and play nip and run with the Soviet 40th Army and survive. As I learned more about this conflict as I grew older it made much more sense to me.
    Given our capabilities today, I have the same feelings about Yemen but in reverse.
    We have been watching these guys for years. listening in, hacking their websites, killing their operatives while they drink tea and plot against us, blow up their cars and generally make their lives miserable.
    I cant imagine the 24/7 lookdown capability we must have now and how we deploy it.
    We have the ability to watch on overhead drone video, attacks in Sana or anywhere in Yemen and rewind the video to track the movement of the attackers beforehand and afterwards. It seems on its face an almost impossible task to conceal. If only we deploy the system.
    The fact that we are able to find the locations of these hostages is encouraging and I agree with the first commenter that we should try to do what we can with good intel.
    For an example of what we can do now with drone monitoring from above I would reference the Television program NOVA on PBS.In particular a broadcast called Rise of the drones. At the 30 minute mark they highlight the DARPA project called ARGUS. A camera platform that can recognize objects 6 inches across and track and video every moving object on the ground within a 15 square mile area.
    It stands to reason IMO, with the easy access to the open coast of Yemen and with the possible cooperation with its neighbor (sometimes mistakenly called an American ally) Yemen would be the perfect place to deploy a ARGUS like system 24/7.
    Link to above mentioned NOVA broadcast argus at 30 minute mark

  • Mark says:

    Unfortunate they were not successful. I trust the perps were dealt with appropriately by our operators.

  • Fnord says:

    I have not seem anything about what happened to the hostage takers in the compound? Hopefully the special forces did the same to all of them as they did to the hostages?

  • Steve Cornelius says:

    I have heard that a dog barking gave away the American SOG Group. The best laid plans are sometime foiled by the most inane objects like someone waking or a dog barking that is not in your plans. Murphy’s Law prevails. Maybe next time they will get them out. They one thing that they know now is that we will take action!

  • kit says:

    It’s always better to be on the offensive against terrorists.

  • JT says:

    No abuse of hindsight here, either. I applaud the effort.

  • ER says:

    to anyone reading who may in the future be kidnapped by AQ, pls do NOT take the advice of Evan above! if u plan on being in situations that might put yourself in such a situation, know in advance the Islamic law on captives, that will help; AQ and taliban generally treat their captives well

  • Arjuna says:

    ER, I must say that “AQ and taliban generally treat their captives well” is the dumbest thing I’ve read in years. Ask Daniel Pearl’s family if KSM treated him well. They keep you alive until they feel like chopping off your head might gain them a slight tactical victory. Hypocrites.
    Resist and Escape, and kill as many as you can on the way out. And never become a spokesman a’ la Cantlie, no matter what they do to you.
    Steve, I think it was one of theirs taking a leak. Bad break for our operators. Better mission planning (more time) might have made a difference, but probably not. South Africans should have kept us abreast of their negos.

  • chris says:

    Darn right kit. I agree with you 100%


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