Center for Strategic Communication

“Statement regarding the American hostage Luke Somers.” Source: Al Malahem Media Foundation.

In a new video released by its media wing, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) threatened to kill American hostage Luke Somers if the US government does not meet its demands. The latest video features senior AQAP leader Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, who delineates what he calls American “crimes” throughout the Muslim world, and then includes a clip of Somers giving a statement.

Al Ansi begins his anti-American diatribe by citing alleged American “crimes against the Islamic world.” He notes US support for the “Zionist occupiers,” as well as “massacres and crimes” in a host of Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. Al Ansi also mentions the “Crusader campaign … relying on aircraft,” a reference to the covert US drone program that has intensified in Yemen since 2012.

Al Ansi then turns to the US-led raid on a cave in the Hajr as-Say’ar district of Hadramout province that sought to free a number of hostages held by AQAP during the night between Nov. 24 and Nov. 25. Eight hostages were rescued in that operation, which was reportedly carried out by US Special Forces, including members of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, and Yemeni counterterrorism agents.

Last week Yemeni officials confirmed that an unnamed American, Briton, and South African were said to be among the hostages and were moved prior to the operation. The Yemeni Defense Ministry’s website quoted a Yemeni soldier who clarified that intelligence information indicated that AQAP had been holding 11 hostages. The remaining American hostage in question is apparently Luke Somers, who is featured in the latest AQAP video. Somers, a British-born American photojournalist, has been held by AQAP since his abduction in Sana’a in September 2013.

After condemning the American raid that sought to free Somers as “this latest foolish action” which killed an “elite group of mujahideen,” al Ansi gives the American government an ultimatum: meet AQAP’s demands within a timeframe of three days or Somers will “meet his inevitable fate.” Although al Ansi does not specify AQAP’s demands, he claims that the American officials “are aware” of them.

Al Ansi concludes his statement by personally warning President Barack Obama and the American government “of the consequences of proceeding in any other foolish action.”

Following al Ansi’s preface, Somers is shown providing a brief statement in which he pleads for his life. Somers states: “It’s now been well over a year since I’ve been kidnapped in Sana’a. Basically. I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation. I am certain my life is in danger. So as I sit here now, I ask, if anything can be done, please let it be done.”

Although some analysts may interpret the latest AQAP video as a reaction to or imitation of the Islamic State’s hostage execution tactics, such analysis ignores recent developments in Yemen. AQAP’s threat to execute Somers is a clear response to the recent US-led raid in Hadramout that freed eight hostages.

Mindful that the US is currently searching for the remaining hostages, AQAP is trying to use Somers as a negotiating card in an effort to extract concessions from the US administration. The video also is an attempt to show that there is a price to pay for US raids to free hostages held by AQAP.