American, South African hostages die in rescue attempt in Yemen - News Hunter Magazine

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Sunday, 7 December 2014

American, South African hostages die in rescue attempt in Yemen

U.S. special forces stormed a walled compound in a remote Yemeni
village early on Saturday in an attempt to free Western hostages held
by an al Qaeda unit, but an American journalist and a South African
teacher were killed by their captors, officials said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a Yemeni intelligence official
said Luke Somers, 33, and South African Pierre Korkie, 56, were shot
by their kidnappers shortly after the raid began in the arid Wadi
Abadan district of Shabwa, a province long seen as one of al Qaeda's
most formidable strongholds.

It was the second U.S. attempt to free Somers in 10 days and Kerry
said it had been approved because of information that Somers' life was
in imminent danger. "It was our assessment that that clock would run
out on Saturday," one U.S. official said.

However, the Gift of the Givers relief group, which was trying to
secure Korkie's release, said it had negotiated for the teacher to be
freed and had expected that to happen on Sunday and for him to be
returned to his family.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is seen by Washington as one
of al Qaeda's most dangerous branches. The United States has worked
with Yemen's government and via drone strikes to attack its leaders in
southern and eastern Yemen.

"The callous disregard for Luke's life is more proof of the depths of
AQAP's depravity, and further reason why the world must never cease in
seeking to defeat their evil ideology," President Barack Obama said in
a statement.

Obama said he had authorized the operation and said the United States
would "spare no effort to use all of its military, intelligence and
diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they
are located."

SHOOT-OUT

A U.S. defense official said about 40 U.S. special forces troops,
flown in by tilt-rotor CV-22 Osprey aircraft, had advanced to within
100 meters (yards) of the walled compound where the hostages were held
before the defenders were alerted and a firefight started.

About 10 people, including al Qaeda guards and some civilians were
killed in the fighting, said Ali al-Ahmadi, chief of Yemen's national
security bureau. The Pentagon said it was unaware of any civilian
casualties.

U.S. officials said they knew Somers was at the location, partly
because of information gleaned during the earlier rescue attempt, and
they were aware that a second hostage was there but did not know in
advance who it was.

As the fight began, an al Qaeda guard darted inside the compound and
then exited through the back. Gunfire was heard. That's when American
officials believe Somers and Korkie were shot.

They were each shot several times, said the U.S. officials, who
declined to be identified. The men were treated by medics but one died
during the flight out and another aboard a U.S. ship. No U.S. troops
were hurt, they said. The raid lasted about 30 minutes.

Gift of the Givers said on its website: "We received with sadness the
news that Pierre was killed in an attempt by American Special Forces,
in the early hours of this morning, to free hostages in Yemen."

It added: "The psychological and emotional devastation to (Korkie's
wife) Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that
Pierre was to be released by al Qaeda tomorrow ... Three days ago we
told her 'Pierre will be home for Christmas'."

Yolande, who was kidnapped with her husband in mid-2013, was released
in January after intervention by Gift of the Givers.
A South African government spokesman declined to comment.

Militants in the region often demand millions of dollars for the
release of hostages, including in the Korkies' case, and Saturday's
incident was likely to again raise discussion about the wisdom of
paying ransoms.

The United States, which refuses to make payments as they could
encourage more kidnappings, is reviewing its approach to such cases
but has said the payment ban will remain in place.

There was no new information about three other hostages, a Briton, a
Turk and a Yemeni, who had previously been held alongside Somers and
Korkie, a Yemeni security official said.

Lucy Somers, the photo journalist's sister, told the Associated Press
that she and her father learned of her brother's death from FBI agents
at 0500 GMT (12 a.m. EST) Saturday. "We ask that all of Luke's family
members be allowed to mourn in peace," she said from London. Somers
had been in captivity for 15 months.



Credit: Reuters

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