The United States has for the first time publicly disclosed a failed attempt to rescue an American citizen held hostage by Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch.
US officials said president Barack Obama last month authorised a secret raid to rescue Luke Somers, a 33-year-old journalist who was kidnapped in the country’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2013.
Somers was not at the targeted location in the remote Hajr as-Say’ar district in the eastern province of Hadramout, although other hostages were freed, officials said.
“As soon as the US government had reliable intelligence and an operational plan, the president authorised the Department of Defence to conduct an operation to recover Mr Somers,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
“Regrettably, Luke was not present.”
In the assault on a cave, US and local security forces rescued six Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian, and killed seven Al Qaeda kidnappers, Yemeni officials said.
The Yemeni defence ministry quoted a soldier who had participated in the rescue as saying an American, a Briton and a South African held there had been moved elsewhere two days before.
[I am looking for] any help that can get me out of this situation
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the rescue operation involved air and ground components but that details of the mission were classified.
The US’s acknowledgment followed the release of a new video by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the militant network’s Yemen arm, which purported to show Somers and threatened to kill him if unspecified demands were not met.
The man identifying himself as Somers said he was looking for “any help that can get me out of this situation”.
Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the video posted on the internet on Wednesday and carried by SITE, an organisation that monitors militant statements.
The man in the video said he was born in the United Kingdom and held American citizenship.
“We give the American government a timeframe of three days from the issuance of this statement to meet our demands about which they are aware; otherwise, the American hostage held by us will meet his inevitable fate,” an AQAP official identified as Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi said in the video.