Hostage’s family pleads for mercy


Published: Friday 5th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The mother and brother of a British-born photojournalist have appealed to his al Qaida captors to spare him, saying he “was only trying to do good”.

The terror group’s branch in Yemen threatened to murder Luke Somers, 33, who was the target of a rescue attempt by US special forces last month, warning Washington in a video not to try again and giving a three-day ultimatum to meet unspecified demands.

“My life is in danger,” Mr Somers said in the footage, which appeared to mimic hostage videos released by al Qaida’s rival Islamic State (IS) group.

It was the first word from Mr Somers since he was snatched from the streets of Yemen’s capital Sana’a more than a year ago. He had been working for nearly three years in the impoverished Arab nation, “living as a normal Yemeni”, friends and colleagues said.

In their own video post, Mr Somers’ mother and brother said he was “only trying to do good things for the Yemeni population”.

“Luke is only a photojournalist and is not responsible for any actions the US government has taken,” his brother Jordan said in the video posted on YouTube.

Noting that her son “appears healthy” in his captors’ video, Paula Somers said: “We thank you for that. Please show mercy and give us an opportunity to see our Luke again.”

Earlier, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby acknowledged for the first time that a raid last month sought to rescue Mr Somers but he turned out not to be at the site targeted.

The White House said President Barack Obama had authorised a rescue operation to free Mr Somers and other hostages, but “regrettably, Luke was not present”.

In the three-minute al Qaida video, Mr Somers appears sombre and gives a brief statement in English, asking for help.

“It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been kidnapped in Sana’a,” he says in the footage posted on the al Qaida Yemen offshoot’s Twitter account. “Basically, I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation. I’m certain that my life is in danger. So as I sit here now, I ask, if anything can be done, please let it be done. Thank you very much.”

Also speaking in the video, a local al Qaida commander, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, denounced American “crimes” against the Muslim world, including US-led air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria.

He condemned the rescue attempt, calling it a “foolish action” and warned against any more “stupidities”. He said an “elite group of mujahideen”, or holy warriors, were killed in the operation.

Al-Ansi gave the US three days to meet al Qaida’s demands or “otherwise, the American hostage held by us will meet his inevitable fate”. He did not elaborate or say explicitly that Mr Somers would be killed.

Al-Ansi did not specify the group’s demands but said Washington was “aware” of them.

Rear Adm Kirby did not elaborate on the joint US-Yemeni operation to free Mr Somers, but officials said at the time the raid targeted a remote al Qaida safe haven in a desert region near the Saudi border.

Eight captives, including Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian, were freed. Mr Somers, a Briton and four others had been moved days earlier.

Mr Somers was kidnapped last September as he left a supermarket, said Fakhri al-Arashi, chief editor of the National Yemen, where he worked as a copy editor and freelance photographer during the country’s 2011 uprising.

“He was very friendly, had no enemies,” Mr al-Arashi said. “But because he is one of few Americans and Westerners here, he was a target.”

Bill Roggio of terrorism analysis centre the Long War Journal, said he believed the al Qaida offshoot, known as al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, (AQAP), put out the video as a reaction to last month’s rescue operation.

The group, considered by the US to be the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror network, “is aware that the US is now searching for the hostages and it is time for it to play its cards and extract whatever it can for them,” he said.

“If the US doesn’t pay the ransom, AQAP will have to make it clear there is a price to pay.”

But other al Qaida experts and local Yemeni tribal figures suggested that by releasing the video now, al Qaida may be trying to find a third party, such as Qatar, to work out a deal for Mr Somer’s release as it did for at least one previous Westerner. That could mean the militant group is looking to secure a ransom or swap and the video was a way to exert pressure.

Al Qaida was notorious for beheadings in the past, most notably of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and several Americans and a Briton in Iraq in 2004. But in recent years, even while continuing suicide bombings and other attacks, it has stayed away from more bloodthirsty acts.

The group is believed to be holding at least three other foreign hostages – a Briton, a South African and a third foreigner thought to be Turkish.

Rashid al-Habshi, a Yemeni hostage who was held captive with Mr Somers was found dead on Wednesday in Hadramawt, the province where the US-Yemeni rescue attempt took place. He appeared in an earlier al Qaida video making a confession that he had helped US drone strikes.

Published: Friday 5th December 2014 by The News Editor

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