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Dog May Have Tipped Off Luke Somers’ Captors During Failed Rescue Bid

What Went Wrong in Rescue Attempt of American Hostage? 3:24

Al Qaeda captors who were holding American photojournalist Luke Somers and a South African man hostage in Yemen may have been alerted simply by a dog when Navy Seals attempted to rescue the two, U.S. officials said Sunday.

Somers, 33, and a South African teacher, Pierre Korkie, 56, were mortally wounded before 40 Special Forces were able to rescue them, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Saturday. The half-hour long raid was watched in real time from Washington, D.C., and officials trying to figure out what went wrong believe a dog might have tipped the militants off to the Seals' arrival, as they approached the al Qaeda compound on foot from two miles away.

When the captors got the heads up, a firefight then broke out, leaving at least half a dozen militants dead, but during the volley of gunshots, one of them also attempted to execute Somers and Korkie, senior administration officials said Saturday.

Korkie was due to be released the day after the raid, according to a statement from the aid organization he worked with, Gift of the Givers. Shortly before Korkie was killed, the agency told his wife “the wait is almost over,” the statement said. “Three days ago we told her ‘Pierre will be home for Christmas.’ We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded.” Korkie’s body is expected to arrive in South Africa on Monday, according to Reuters.

None of the Special Forces commandos were seriously injured in the raid, but a woman and a 10-year-old boy were among 11 others killed, Reuters reported, citing local residents. Reuters also reported that one of the militants killed was a commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The group had released a video Thursday threatening Somers' life, at which point the U.S. government announced a previous attempt had been made to rescue Somers. President Barack Obama authorized the second raid on Friday because defense officials believed there was a "credible threat" against his life and reliable intelligence about where he was being held.

"It is my highest responsibility to do everything possible to protect American citizens," Obama said in a statement Saturday.

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— Kristen Welker, Jim Miklaszewski and Elisha Fieldstadt, with Reuters