Barack Obama slams killings of US, South African hostages

PRESIDENT Barack Obama tonight condemned the killing of US journalist Luke Somers, who died in Yemen along with a South African hostage during a failed raid by US special forces aimed at freeing him from his al-Qa’ida kidnappers.

South African Pierre Korkie was also killed in the raid, according to a charity that had been negotiating his release, the Gift of the Givers, which said Korkie’s death came a day before he was due to be freed after more than a year in captivity.

Ten militants were killed in the joint operation in Shabwa province in southeast Yemen, Yemen’s defence ministry said.

A tribal leader said soldiers were seen parachuting into the area and residents reported heavy clashes.

“The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of al-Qa’ida terrorists during a rescue operation,” Mr Obama said in a statement.

“I offer my deepest condolences to Luke’s family and to his loved ones.”

Mr Obama also offered support to the family of the South African, who was killed alongside Somers.

“I also offer my thoughts and prayers to the family of a non-US citizen hostage who was also murdered by these terrorists during the rescue operation. Their despair and sorrow at this time are beyond words,” Mr Obama said.

Somers appeared in a video this week saying his life was in imminent danger and appealing for help, while his captors also released a video threatening to kill the 33-year-old British-born US citizen, who has been held captive for more than a year.

Mr Obama said the captives’ deaths would not deter his government’s attempts to secure American hostages and fight its enemies.

“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.

“Terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice,” Mr Obama vowed.

The White House said the rescue operation had been carried out in co-operation with the Yemeni government, which is a key US ally in the fight against AQ, allowing Washington to conduct a longstanding drone war against the group on its territory.

Korkie and his wife Yolande, who had worked as teachers in Yemen for four years, were seized by AQ in May 2013 in the city of Taez. The wife was released in January following mediation by Gift of the Givers. The charity said logistical arrangements had already been put in place to fly Pierre Korkie out of Yemen under diplomatic cover after negotiations.

Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the local branch, had on Thursday threatened to execute Somers, who was kidnapped more than a year ago in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, within three days if Washington failed to meet unspecified demands.

“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,” Mr Obama said in his statement.

Mr Obama said that since the abduction of Somers 15 months ago, Washington had been using “every tool at our disposal” to try to secure his release.

“Luke was a photojournalist who sought through his images to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world,” Mr Obama said.

“He came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organisation.”

Washington has a longstanding policy of not negotiating with hostage-takers or paying ransoms.

The US has said that American and Yemeni forces had already tried unsuccessfully to rescue Somers last month.

According to Yemen’s defence ministry, AQ moved hostages, including the US journalist, a Briton and a South African, days before that US-Yemeni raid in south-eastern Hadramawt province.

The whereabouts of the Briton are unknown.

Yemeni officials said eight other hostages were freed in the earlier operation.

AQAP is considered by Washington to be the most dangerous affiliate of AQ. The execution threat by AQAP followed the murder of five Western hostages since August by the Islamic State group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq.

Two US journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American aid worker Peter Kassig and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines were all beheaded.

AQ has exploited instability in impoverished Yemen since a 2011 uprising forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

In recent years there has been a growing number of abductions in Yemen by AQ.

The militants remain active in southern and eastern regions of Yemen despite several military campaigns by government forces.