U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement he ordered the raid that killed hostages Pierre Korkie and Luke Somers.
The American photojournalist and South African teacher held by al-Qaida militants in Yemen have been killed in a failed U.S. rescue attempt, authorities said Saturday.
Information “indicated that Luke’s life was in imminent danger,” Obama said. “Based on this assessment, and as soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorized a rescue attempt. … I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.”
The aid group Gift of Givers later identified the second hostage as South African teacher Pierre Korkie, who the group said was to be released Sunday. They said he was to be flown out of Yemen “under diplomatic cover, then to meet with family members in a ‘safe’ country (and) fly to South Africa.”
Lucy Somers, the photojournalist’s sister, told The Associated Press that she and her father learned of her 33-year-old brother’s death from FBI agents at 0500 GMT (12 a.m. EST) Saturday.
American troops “shot the hostage before or during the attack,” Yemen’s national security chief, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Ahmadi said at a conference in Manama, Bahrain. “He [Somers] was freed but unfortunately he was dead.”
The news of the failed rescue comes after a suspected U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed nine alleged militants early Saturday, a Yemeni security official said before news of Somers’ death. The drone struck at dawn in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, hitting a suspected militant hideout, the official said. The official did not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists.
Later Saturday, tribal leaders said they saw helicopters flying over an area called Wadi Abdan in Shabwa province.
Korkie was kidnapped in the Yemeni city of Taiz in May, along with his wife, Yolande. His wife later was released returned to South Africa. A non-governmental group, Gift of the Givers, helped mediate her release. Those close to Korkie said al-Qaida militants demanded a $3 million ransom for his release.
“The psychological and emotional devastation to Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by al Qaida tomorrow,” Gift of Givers said in a statement Saturday. “A team of Abyan 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. 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.’”
Members of a South African family was killed in Afghanistan earlier, just ahead of a donor conference.