“My life is in danger,” photojournalist Luke Somers says in the footage, which appeared to mimic hostage videos released by al-Qaida’s rival, the Islamic State group.
It was the first word from the 33-year-old since he was snatched from the streets of Sanaa 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 told The Associated Press.
A statement by Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby acknowledged for the first time Thursday that a raid last month had sought to rescue Somers but that he turned out not to be at the site.
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also said Thursday that President Barack Obama had authorized a rescue operation to free Somers and other hostages but “regrettably, Luke was not present.”
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 says. “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 U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
He also condemned the rescue attempt, calling it a “foolish action” and warned against any more such “stupidities.” He acknowledged that an “elite group of mujahedeen,” or holy warriors, were killed in the operation.
Al-Ansi gave the U.S. 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 explicitly say Somers would be killed. Al-Ansi also did not specify the group’s demands but said Washington is “aware” of them.
Al-Qaida’s Yemen branch group has been at the forefront of a propaganda war with the Islamic State group, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria under his control and has spoken of expanding it to other countries.
Al-Qaida rejects the unilateral declaration and has criticized the group for its methods. But it faces stiff competition, with many extremists around the Middle East drawn by al-Baghdadi’s dramatic successes.