Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen threatened an American hostage kidnapped over a year ago, giving Washington three days to meet unspecified demands and denouncing U.S. actions in the Arabian Peninsula country in a new video released Thursday.
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The hostage, identified as 33-year-old Luke Somers, an American photojournalist born in Britain, is featured for the first time in the video, posted on the Al-Qaida offshoot's Twitter account and first reported by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant sites.
The video mimicked some of those used by Al-Qaida rivals from the Islamic State group, which has beheaded several American and British hostages in the aftermath of a summer blitz that captured much of Iraq and Syria. The IS fighters have at times battled al-Qaida and prompted defections among their rivals.
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.
Somers was likely among a group of hostages who were the objective of a joint rescue mission by U.S operation forces and Yemeni troops last month that freed eight captives in a remote corner of Yemen's Hadramawt province.
At the time, a Yemeni official said the mission, carried out in a vast desert area dotted with dunes called Hagr al-Saiaar, an Al-Qaida safe haven not far from the Saudi border, failed to liberate five others, including an American journalist and a Briton who were moved elsewhere by their Al-Qaida captors days before the raid. The American was not identified by name and Yemen did not officially confirm the participation of U.S. commandos in the rescue mission — a rare instance of U.S. forces intervening on the ground in Yemen.
In the three minute video, 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," Somers 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 Somers' statement, the video shows local Al-Qaida commander Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, reading in Arabic and speaking about alleged American "crimes against" the Muslim world.
Al-Ansi criticizes US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State group and President Barak 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 U.S. raid.
He also warned the U.S. against more "stupidities," referring to future attempts to rescue hostages.
Al-Ansi gives the U.S. three days to meet Al-Qaida's demands or "otherwise, the American hostage held by us will meet his inevitable fate," without elaborating or explicitly saying they would kill their captive.
Al-Ansi also does not specify the group's demands but says Washington is "aware" of them.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni group is known, is considered by the U.S. to be the world's most dangerous branch of the terror network and has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. homeland.
Abduction of foreigners has been common in impoverished Yemen, troubled both by al-Qaida 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 the al-Qaida branch's tactics.
On Thursday, Yemeni security officials said the body of a Yemeni hostage who had been held captive together with Somers, was found in the district of al-Qatn in Hadramawt late Wednesday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, identified the man as Rashid al-Habshi and said the Al-Qaida Yemeni branch had recorded his purported confession of helping Americans in carrying out drone strikes against militants.
The U.S. drone strikes, targeting suspected militant gatherings, have become increasingly unpopular in Yemen due to civilian casualties.