- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hours before the Obama administration revealed Thursday that a secret U.S. special forces mission had failed to rescue American hostage Luke Somers in Yemen last month, al Qaeda’s branch in the nation circulated a harrowing video giving Washington three days to meet unspecified demands or face “consequences” for Mr. Somers.

With speculation swirling that the threatening video may be what prompted administration officials to reveal the botched rescue mission, some in Washington were quick to warn the White House against negotiating with the terrorists.

“The Obama administration must not waiver from the United States’ long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The Texas Republican asserted that Mr. Obama set a dangerous precedent for such negotiations earlier this year by authorizing the release of five former high-level Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American held hostage in Afghanistan for five years.

But Mr. Somers‘ case is notably different. The 33-year-old photojournalist is an American citizen who born in Britain. He had been working in Yemen since 2011 as a freelancer for the Yemen Times when operatives from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) kidnapped him in September 2013.

The video circulated Thursday was the first showing Mr. Somers in captivity.

The footage seemed designed to mimic hostage videos released recently by AQAP rivals from the Islamic State group, which has threatened — and later beheaded — several American and British hostages in the aftermath of a summer blitz that captured large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State fighters have at times battled al Qaeda-aligned groups like AQAP and prompted defections among their rivals.

In the 3-minute video, Mr. Somers appears somber and gives a brief statement in English, asking for help. The video was first reported by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant sites.

“It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been kidnapped in Sanaa,” Mr. 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 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 criticizes US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State group and President 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 Qaeda’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. He doesn’t specify the demands but says Washington is “aware” of them.

Officials at the White House and Pentagon said Thursday that Mr. Obama had personally authorized last month’s mission to rescue Mr. Somers, the lone American among roughly a dozen hostages held by AQAP in Yemen.

“The mission was coordinated with the Yemeni government and was undertaken by U.S. and Yemeni forces,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. “Regrettably, Luke was not present, though hostages of other nationalities were present and were rescued.”

In a statement, Ms. Meehan said the “details of the operation remain classified.”

A report by the BBC Thursday, said U.S. and Yemeni forces rescued six Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian being held by AQAP in a Nov. 25 operation at a mountain cave in the remote Hajr al-Sayar district of Yemen’s Hadramawt province.

In light of Thursday’s developments, Mr. McCaul warned the administration to proceed carefully and assertively in the Somers case. “This administration has already broken this policy once with the release of the Taliban Five, and in doing so allowed dangerous terrorists to resume the fight,” he said.

“AQAP’s latest threat against an American hostage reflects the unrelenting and pervasive brutality of Islamist extremist groups who are at war with the West,” the Texas Republican added. “We must send a clear message to extremists: ‘We will not negotiate with you. We will do everything in our power to stop you and bring you to justice.’”

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