Yemen’s Qaeda threatens to kill US hostage in new video
SANAA // Al Qaeda in Yemen has threatened to execute an American hostage kidnapped over a year ago, unless Washington meets its demands in three days.
In a new video released on Thursday, the hostage, identified as 33-year-old Luke Somers, an American photojournalist born in Britain, is featured for the first time. It was posted on the Twitter account of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) and first reported by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant sites.
The video mimicked some of those used by Al Qaeda rivals from ISIL, which has beheaded several American and British hostages in the aftermath of a summer blitz that captured much of Iraq and Syria.
ISIL fighters have at times battled Al Qaeda and prompted defections among their rivals.
Mr Somers was kidnapped in September 2013 from a street in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, where he had worked as a photojournalist for the Yemen Times. Since his capture, Yemeni journalists have been holding sit-ins in Sanaa to press the government to seek his release.
Mr Somers was likely among a group of hostages which US operation forces and Yemeni troops last month tried to free. Instead, eight other captives in a remote corner of Yemen’s Hadramawt province were rescued.
At the time, a Yemeni official said the mission, carried out in a vast desert area dotted with dunes called Hagr Al Saiaar failed to liberate five others, including an American journalist and a Briton who were moved elsewhere by their Al Qaeda captors days before the raid.
The American was not identified by name and Yemen did not officially confirm the participation of US commandos in the rescue mission – a rare instance of US forces intervening on the ground in Yemen.
On Thursday, Yemeni security officials said the body of a Yemeni hostage who had been held captive together with Mr Somers, was found in the district of Al Qatn in Hadramawt late Wednesday.
The officials identified the man as Rashid Al Habshi and said Aqap had recorded his purported confession of helping Americans in carrying out drone strikes against militants.
The US drone strikes, targeting suspected militant gatherings, have become increasingly unpopular in Yemen due to civilian casualties.
In the three-minute video, Mr Somers appears somber and gives a brief statement in English, asking for help.
“It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been kidnapped in Sanaa,” he said. “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.”
Before Mr Somers’ statement, the video shows local Al Qaeda commander Nasser Bin Ali Al Ansi, reading in Arabic and speaking about alleged American “crimes against” the Muslim world.
Al Ansi criticises US-led airstrikes against ISIL and President Barack Obama for his “latest foolish action”, referring to the “failed operation” in Hadramawt. He says an “elite group of mujahedeen” – or holy warriors – were killed in the US raid.
He also warned the US against more “stupidities” referring to future attempts to rescue hostages.
Al Ansi has given the Washington three days to meet Al Qaeda’s demands or “otherwise, the American hostage held by us will meet his inevitable fate”.
Al Ansi also does not specify the group’s demands but says Washington is “aware” of them.
The US considers Aqap the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror network and has been linked to several failed attacks on the US soil.
Abduction of foreigners has been common in impoverished Yemen, troubled both by Al Qaeda and the advance of Shiite rebels, but while kidnapping for ransom was common in the past, threatening a hostage’s life appears to be a shift in Aqap’s tactics.
* Associated Press
Published: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM