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American Hostage Killed During Rescue Attempt In Yemen


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

An American freelance photojournalist has been killed in Yemen today, during a rescue attempt by U.S. Special Forces. Luke Somers had been held hostage since September of 2013. Secretary of Defense Hagel has just arrived in Kabul on a scheduled visit and just held a news conference. NPR's Sean Carberry is in Kabul. Sean, thanks very much for being with us.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: You're welcome Scott.

SIMON: What can we say now about the raid? What do we know happened?

CARBERRY: Well, so far they've provided little in terms of the actual operational details and in terms of the number of troops involved, what type of operation, but it was a joint operation with U.S. Special Forces and with Yemeni forces. And according to one official, who was quoted by The New York Times, Somers was actually shot by his captors during the raid and the U.S. forces were able to get him, but they were not able to save him after being shot. And the decision to carry out this operation was made shortly after a video was released by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on Thursday, warning that Somers would be killed within 72 hours if the U.S. didn't meet their demands. And in the past AQAP, as they're known, has been demanding that U.S. cease drone strikes in Yemen and remove its troops from the country.

SIMON: Now, had there been an earlier attempt by U.S. forces to rescue Luke Somers?

CARBERRY: Yes. The U.S. just in the last week finally released some details of an attempt last month, and they said that there was a rescue operation, but when U.S. forces got to the location where Somers was believed to be held he had actually been moved. So they had missed him, the al-Qaida operatives holding him had moved him to a different location, hence the second attempt in this case where they felt there was clear evidence that he was in danger of being killed by al-Qaida.

SIMON: And Sean, what do we know about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group that kidnapped Luke Somers?

CARBERRY: Well, they're an offshoot of the quote, "original al-Qaida," considered one of the most active and violent franchises and they were behind the attempt five years ago to down a U.S. airplane on Christmas. That was the attack where the man who was supposed to carry it out had explosives sewn into his underwear that he failed to properly detonate while the plane was in the air. And al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in some ways has something in common with al-Qaida when they were in Afghanistan. They've been able to exploit a very remote terrain in the country there. The government of Yemen is very weak and doesn't have much presence outside of the cities. So there's a lot of free range of movement for al-Qaida in Yemen just as there was in Afghanistan years ago when they were able to move around in mountainous regions that were largely ungoverned here.

SIMON: And we want to note that there reportedly was also a second hostage killed, I believe a South African. What do we know about this man?

CARBERRY: Again, at this point very little. He's been identified as Pierre Korkie, again, a South African who was working in Yemen. He was kidnapped back in May and so there's no information yet whether there was any connection between the two hostages. Again, Yemen is a place where we've seen a lot of hostages taken over the years, a lot of kidnapping activity there. Often they're taken by criminal gangs and sold on to al-Qaida, who then tries to ransom them to the U.S. or other governments.

SIMON: NPR's Sean Carberry reporting today from Kabul. Thanks very much for being with us, Sean.

CARBERRY: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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