Qaeda group in Yemen threatens to kill American journalist by end of this week

SANA, Yemen — Seething over an attempt last month by United States commandos to free an American hostage, Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate has threatened to kill him by the end of the week and warned the Obama administration against further “foolish action,” according to a video posted on YouTube.

The journalist, Luke Somers, who appears in the video posted late Wednesday, has been missing since September 2013, when he was snatched off a street in Sana, the Yemeni capital.

Mr. Somers, speaking to the camera, appears composed and healthy, wearing a purple shirt and glasses.

“I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation,” he said. “I’m certain that my life is in danger. So as I sit here now, I ask if there’s anything that can be done, please let it be done.”

His family, breaking its silence about the abduction for the first time, responded to the video by posting its own on Thursday, imploring Mr. Somers’s captors to release him, thanking them for treating him well and insisting that the family had no prior knowledge of the raid.

The video of Mr. Somers amounted to an unusually public and hard-line ultimatum from the affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to analysts who study the group.

The three-day deadline was among the shortest to have appeared in any Qaeda videos in recent years. And it was a rare instance of the Yemeni branch formally releasing a video threatening a Western hostage.

Nasr bin Ali al-Ansi, a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who appears in the video, was vague about the group’s conditions for the hostage’s release, saying only that they were “well known.”

At the same time, he suggested that the ultimatum was a reaction to the Nov. 25 rescue attempt, which left seven Qaeda members dead. “We warn Obama and the American government of the consequences of proceeding with any other foolish action,” he said in the video.

unnamed-15Luke Somers in Sana, the Yemeni capital, in February 2013. Mr. Somers, who appears in a Qaeda video posted late Wednesday, was snatched off a street in Sana in September 2013. Credit Hani Mohammed/Associated Press

Al Qaeda has largely turned away from executing hostages over the past five years, releasing the majority for ransom. An investigation this year by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates had taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008.

Payments were made almost exclusively by European governments. Mr. Somers was born in Britain, but said in the video that he had lived most of his life in the United States and is an American citizen. Britain and the United States do not pay ransoms.

Al Qaeda’s focus on collecting ransoms contrasts sharply with the more brutal practices of the Islamic State, the extremist group fighting in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The Islamic State has killed hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian civilians and soldiers, publicizing the deaths in sophisticated propaganda videos. It has also killed six of its 23 Western hostages and is threatening to kill more.

In a possible sign that Al Qaeda was adopting a more radical stance — and possibly feeling pressure from rival jihadist groups like the Islamic State — the body of Rasheed al-Habishi, a Yemeni hostage believed to have been held alongside Mr. Somers, was discovered Thursday, according to his family.

The rescue effort, a joint raid by United States Special Operations commandos and Yemeni counterterrorism troops, focused on a cave in a remote area of Hadhramaut Province, near the border with Saudi Arabia. Areas of the province, Yemen’s largest, are beyond the government’s control, and it has been hit repeatedly by American drones armed with missiles.

When the rescuers arrived, surprising the kidnappers, Mr. Somers was not among a group of eight hostages whom the commandos freed. Yemeni military officials said that Mr. Somers and several other hostages might have been moved two days before the rescue attempt, citing the testimony of one of the freed hostages.

Mr. Somers was believed to be among a group that included citizens of Britain, South Africa and Turkey, as well as Mr. Habishi, who worked as an employee in a state-run electricity company, according to his family.

Mr. Habishi’s body was discovered at 6 a.m. Thursday in a town near the raid site, with bullet wounds in his head and chest, his son said in an interview.

Mr. Somers had been working in Yemen for years before his kidnapping, including as an editor at several local English-language publications and as a respected freelance photographer.

An article about him this week in National Yemen, a newspaper, said he was “known as the most active photojournalist at Change Square,” a reference to the main protest site during Yemen’s 2011 uprising against the president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Somers family video, subtitled in Arabic, beseeched the abductors not to punish Mr. Somers for the American raid.

“Luke is only a photojournalist, and he is not responsible for any actions the U.S. government has taken,” said his brother, Jordan Somers. “Please understand that we had no prior knowledge of the rescue attempt for Luke, and we mean no harm to anyone.” His mother, Paula Somers, thanked his captors for caring for him. “He appears healthy,” she said.

The White House said it was aware of the video of Mr. Somers and gave its first official account of the United States-Yemeni mission to rescue him last month.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement that while details of the operation remained classified, the Pentagon was acknowledging it now “to provide accurate information, given that it is being widely reported in the public domain.”

Ms. Meehan said that President Obama had authorized the mission “as soon as the U.S. government had reliable intelligence and an operational plan.”


The short video can be seen at the NYT link, but it cannot be embedded.

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  • Justin

    I will shed NO tears for him!