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U.S. Tried to Rescue Luke Somers, American Hostage in Yemen

Navy SEALS’ Failed Rescue of American Hostage Luke Somers 1:57

U.S. commandos tried and failed to rescue the British-born American hostage who was threatened with execution by militants in a video released Thursday, the Pentagon acknowledged on Thursday.

Military officials said a number of other hostages were rescued in the raid by U.S. special operations forces and Yemeni military, but teacher and photographer Luke Somers, a U.S. citizen who was abducted a year ago, was not at the location.

Navy SEALS’ Failed Rescue of American Hostage Luke Somers 1:57

They did not divulge that Somers, 33, was the target of last week's operation — in which seven captors were killed at a cave on the Saudi Arabian border — until the video surfaced. Details of the mission remain classified, they said.

"As soon as the U.S. government had reliable intelligence and an operational plan, the president authorized the Department of Defense to conduct an operation to recover Mr. Somers," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

"Regrettably, Luke was not present. The hostages of other nationalities were present and were rescued."

The video was released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist organizations. The video does not specify any demands but accuses the U.S. of bombing its fighters, according to a translation by SITE.

In the video, Somers — who had been working as an English teacher and freelance photojournalist in Yemen for several years — is threatened with execution in three days.

"I'm certain that my life is in danger," he says under duress.

Hours later, Somers' family released a video appeal saying they did not know about the commando operation in advance.

"Luke is only a photojournalist and he is not responsible for any action the U.S. government has taken," his brother, Jordan Somers, said.

Luke Somers was kidnapped by gunmen in 2013 in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, soon after the U.S. government issued a warning to Americans living there.

Ossie Ikeogu, the newsdesk editor for the freelance photography platform Demotix, said he spoke with Somers 10 days before his kidnapping about the possible dangers.

"He felt that he wasn’t under threat and he felt that the work he was doing there was worthy,” Ikeogu told NBC News.

He said that while Somers was in Yemen primarily to teach, he had a "passion for photography," and he used Demotix to get his photos published by Le Monde, Al-Jazeera, Unicef and other outlets. His pictures ranged from rich cultural scenes to pro-democracy protests.

When Ikeogu saw the new video, he was filled with "horror because Luke is one of the nicest people you could ever talk to," he said. “We would make a point of trying to touch base with him once a month. He was always positive, always happy-go-lucky in a sense.”

He did not know what had drawn Somers — who graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin with a creative writing degree in 2008 — to Yemen.

A Beloit classmate said that after graduation, Somers went to Egypt for a year.

"When he came back, he was like, 'That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to be a photojournalist and go back to the Middle East,'" said Jasmine Nears, who has started a White House petition with friends asking the U.S. to do whatever it can to secure Somers' freedom.