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Obama defends rescue which leaves two hostages dead

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Luke Somers
Pierre Korkie


An American photojournalist and a South African teacher held by al-Qaida militants in Yemen were killed yesterday during a United States-led rescue operation that President Barack Obama said he ordered because of "imminent danger" to the US hostage.

US officials believe the militants shot the two men during a fire fight, and that both were alive when American forces pulled them from a building on the group's compound and put them on aircraft, where medical teams operated on them during a short flight to the USS Makin Island, a Navy ship in the region.

South African Pierre Korkie is believed to have died during the flight, while American Luke Somers died on the ship, according to senior US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had yet to be approved for release.

About 40 US special operations forces were part of the mission, according to the American officials. The rescuers, backed by Yemeni ground forces, got within 100 metres of the compound in southern Shabwa province when they were spotted by the militants, and the skirmish ensued.

Yemen's highest security body, the Supreme Security Committee, issued a rare statement acknowledging that the country's forces had carried out the raid with "American friends". The committee said all the militants who were holding the hostages were killed in the operation.


The second rescue attempt in less than two weeks to free Somers was prompted by a video posted online earlier in the week in which al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula threatened to kill photographer Luke Somers within 72 hours.

But an aid group helping negotiate Korkie's release said he was to be freed yesterday and his wife was told that "the wait is almost over".

In a statement, Obama did not address Korkie by name, only saying he "authorised the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke". The South African government did not immediately comment on Korkie's death.

Officials said Obama authorised the rescue mission last Friday morning and was informed that evening about the outcome.