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Obama: Luke faced 'imminent danger'

President Barack Obama has said he authorised the attempt to rescue hostage Luke Somers in Yemen because the US had information that the British-born photojournalist's life was in imminent danger.

Shortly before the White House statement, Yemen's national security chief said militants had planned to kill Mr Somers. On Thursday, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula posted a video online threatening to kill the American citizen.

Authorities said Mr Somers, 33, who was kidnapped in September 2013, and South African teacher Pierre Korkie, died in the rescue operation that Mr Obama said was conducted by US forces in partnership with Yemen's government.

Mr Obama said he "strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of al Qaida terrorists" and reaffirmed that the US "will spare no effort to use all its military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located".

He said terrorists "who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice".

A mysterious US raid last month had tried to rescue Mr Somers but he was not at the site, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Mr Obama cited the captors' video threatening to kill Mr Somers within 72 hours and said "other information also indicated that Luke's life was in imminent danger".

"Based on this assessment, and as soon as there was reliable intelligence and an operational plan, I authorised a rescue attempt yesterday," the president said in the White House statement.

Mr Obama said Mr Somers wanted to use his photographic images to convey the lives of Yemenis to outsiders and had come to the country "in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organisation".

"The callous disregard for Luke's life is more proof of the depths of AQAP's depravity, and further reason why the world must never cease in seeking to defeat their evil ideology," he said.

Secretary of state John Kerry also cited "a compelling indication that Luke's life was in immediate danger" and said "we recommended that the president authorise an attempt to rescue Luke".

Speaking in Afghanistan, defence secretary Chuck Hagel said the rescue operation was "extremely well executed" but complicated and risky.

Vice president Joe Biden said the US "will be relentless in our efforts to bring to justice" those responsible "for this despicable crime".

About 40 American special operations forces were involved in the rescue attempt, which followed US drone strikes in the area, US officials said. The rescuers, backed by Yemeni ground forces, advanced within 100 metres of the compound in Shabwa province when they were spotted by the militants and a firefight followed.

Amid the fighting, US forces saw a militant briefly enter a building on the compound and officials believe it was then that Mr Somers and Mr Korkie were shot. When Americans entered the building, they found both men alive, but gravely wounded.

Officials said that based on the location where the men were being held, there was no possibility that they were struck by American gunfire.

US forces pulled Mr Somers and Mr Korkie on to V-22 Osprey aircraft and medical teams began performing surgery in mid-air. One hostage died during the short flight and the second died after the Ospreys landed on the USS Makin Island, a navy ship in the region.

The raid was over in about 30 minutes.

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