Luke Somers, the American freelance photographer kidnapped by al Qaeda militants in Sana’a, Yemen in 2013, was killed yesterday during a U.S. special operations rescue mission inside the country. The mission was conducted after Yemen’s national security chief received intelligence suggesting the militants planned to kill Somers imminently. Details are still emerging; however, U.S. forces reportedly reached Somers while he was still alive, yet badly injured. The operation, which also resulted in the deaths of ten militants, was carried out just days after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video featuring Somers and threatening to kill him in three days if the group’s demands were not met. AQAP did not specify the demands during the recording. Additionally, Pierre Korkie, a South African hostage, was killed during the operation.
MSA's Research and Intelligence Analysis (RIA) Group has been monitoring this situation closely and has identified the following implications:
Previously, al Qaeda and its affiliates have used hostages as a means of engaging in prisoner exchanges and negotiating ransoms, rather than executing them for notoriety. The incident with Somers may suggest a shift in al Qaeda’s tactics as it appears to be more closely aligned with the Islamic State’s strategy of executing hostages and exploiting the crime on social media. Both executions and the release of videos listing demands show the evolution of terrorism as theater and how social media is being used to reach a global audience.