WASHINGTON, December 6, 2014 —
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel condemned yesterday’s murder of U.S. photojournalist Luke Somers in Yemen by al Qaeda terrorists as U.S. and Yemeni commandos attempted a rescue.
Somers, 33, was taken hostage in Yemen in September 2013 by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an al Qaeda splinter group.
Somers, who reportedly held U.S. and British citizenship, was shot by the terrorists as Special Operations forces moved in. Another hostage, South African teacher Pierre Korkie, was also fatally shot during the rescue attempt.
A Nov. 25 raid by U.S. special operations forces to rescue Somers freed some other al Qaeda-held hostages, but Somers wasn’t present.
“The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of al Qaeda terrorists during a rescue operation conducted by U.S. forces in Yemen in partnership with the Yemeni government,” Obama said in a statement issued today. “On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke’s family and to his loved ones. I also offer my thoughts and prayers to the family of a non-U.S. citizen hostage who was also murdered by these terrorists during the rescue operation. Their despair and sorrow at this time are beyond words.”
The president added, “It is my highest responsibility to do everything possible to protect American citizens. As this and previous hostage rescue operations demonstrate, the United States will spare no effort to use all of its military, intelligence, and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located. And terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice.”
After Somers was captured in Yemen, Obama said, “the United States has been using every tool at our disposal to secure his release. Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours. 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. I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.”
Obama described Somers as “a photojournalist who sought through his images to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world. He came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organization. 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.”
The president expressed his gratitude “to the U.S. forces who carried out this mission as well as the previous attempt to rescue Luke, and to the dedicated intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts. I also deeply appreciate the support and assistance provided by President Hadi and the Yemeni government, and reiterate our strong commitment to combating the shared threat posed by AQAP.
“We remember Luke and his family, as well as the families of those Americans who are still being held captive overseas and those who have lost loved ones to the brutality of these and other terrorists,” Obama added. “We remain determined to do our utmost to bring them home, and to hold those who have done them harm accountable.”
Secretary of State’s Statement
Somers’ murder “is a reminder of the brutality of the terrorists of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They have again demonstrated their cruelty and their disdain for human life, freedom, and the Yemeni people whom they terrorize daily,” Secretary of State Kerry said in a statement issued today.
There was reason to believe that Somers’ life was in immediate danger, Kerry said, “and so we recommended that the president authorize an attempt to rescue Luke. Tragically, Luke and a foreign national hostage were killed by their captors during the course of that operation.”
Kerry said he’s “proud of the brave men and women of the U.S. military who twice risked their lives in operations to try and bring Luke home safely. We also appreciate the efforts of the dedicated intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic professionals who supported these operations, and we are particularly grateful to the Yemeni government, under the leadership of President Hadi, for their critical and supportive role in trying to liberate this young American from unfathomable captivity, and for their enduring partnership in combating the scourge of AQAP.”
The AWAP terrorists know “how to hate, they know how to murder, and now they have robbed a family of an idealistic young photojournalist who went to Yemen to practice his calling and document the lives of ordinary Yemenis,” Kerry said.
“As a parent, I know there are no words that can assuage the loss that Luke's family has suffered, or the anguish of the family of the second hostage who was killed,” the secretary of state said. “There's no way to wipe away their pain. But Teresa and I both pray that they can find some small solace in knowing that the United States government and all of our people grieve with them, and that there were brave Americans in uniform willing to lay down their own lives so that they had a chance to live.
“We also pray for the families of all the innocents who are held against their will, whose safe return we work towards every day,” Kerry said.
Secretary of Defense's Statement
There were “compelling reasons to believe Mr. Somers' life was in imminent danger,” Defense Secretary Hagel said in a statement issued today. Somers and a second non-U.S. citizen hostage, he said, “were murdered by the AQAP terrorists during the course of the operation. On behalf of the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, I extend our condolences, thoughts, and prayers to their families and loved ones.”
Several of the AQAP terrorists holding the hostages captive were killed in the mission, Hagel said, who noted yesterday’s rescue attempt took place in central Yemen and was conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen.
“I thank President Hadi, the Yemeni government, and Yemen security forces for their assistance and cooperation,” the defense secretary said. “Yesterday's mission is a reminder of America's unrelenting commitment to the safety of our fellow citizens -- wherever they might be around the world.
“I commend the troops who undertook this dangerous mission,” Hagel said. “Their service and valor are an inspiration to all of us.”