U.S. Tried to Rescue Journalist Held Captive by Yemen Extremists

The U.S. military confirmed today that it tried unsuccessfully to rescue an American journalist being held hostage in Yemen, as his extremist captors threatened in an online video to execute him.

The operation to rescue the 33-year-old journalist, Luke Somers, and a number of other hostages took place recently and was conducted jointly with Yemen’s armed forces, according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby. Details of the raid remain classified, Kirby said in a statement.

Somers, who has been held by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula since September 2013, was not present though several hostages of other nationalities were rescued, according to National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. The operation was authorized by President Barack Obama, she said.

The al-Qaeda affiliate holding Somers said he would meet his “inevitable fate” unless the U.S. government met its demands within three days, according to a copy of the video posted on YouTube. The recording begins with a brief statement from Somers, who said he was certain his life was in danger.

The U.S. is aware of the video, Meehan said.

“Our thoughts remain with the Somers family, and with the families and loved ones of every other U.S. citizen being held hostage overseas,” Meehan said in a statement.

Some details of the rescue attempt were reported last week by the New York Times, which said that eight hostages were freed in the Nov. 25 raid on a cave in eastern Yemen.

Safety Concern

About two dozen U.S. special-forces troops, joined by some of their American-trained Yemeni counterparts, took part in the operation, the Times reported. Seven extremists were killed in the attack on the cave, the newspaper reported.

Meehan said the Pentagon was confirming that the operation took place because the raid was being reported in the public domain. Even so, she and Kirby said further information about the raid would be withheld.

“The overriding concern for Mr. Somers’ safety and the safety of the U.S. forces who undertake these missions made it imperative that we not disclose information related to Mr. Somers’ captivity and the attempted rescue,” Meehan said.

The threats against Somers come after the killings of U.S. and European hostages by Islamic State, which has seized swaths of northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria, prompting the U.S. to wage an air campaign to dislodge the extremist group.

In the most recent slaying, 26-year-old American aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded by the Sunni extremists, who posted an online video showing his severed head along with the mass beheadings of a group of Syrian pilots.

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