Hostage Killings Drive U.S. Toward Riskier Rescue Attempts

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The widow of slain South African hostage Pierre Korkie, Yolanda Korkie, reacts as she gives a press conference on December 9, 2014 at the Gift of the Givers charity headquarters in Johannesburg as her husband's body was returned home from Yemen. It was her first public appeareance since her 56-year-old husband was killed in a failed rescue bid by US special forces on December 6. (Credit: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images)

Under cover of darkness, three dozen U.S. commandos crept up on a walled compound in southern Yemen. Intelligence indicated that Luke Somers, an American hostage, was imprisoned inside.

Conditions were far from ideal. Getting to Somers on foot required breaching two walls. There was poor surveillance of the rugged site. But Somers’ captors had threatened to kill him within days. So Navy SEALs went in.

The attempted Dec. 6 rescue quickly went awry, when a barking dog apparently alerted guards and a 10-minute firefight erupted. U.S. officials said a militant raced ahead of the raiders and shot Somers and another hostage, South African schoolteacher Pierre Korkie. Both later died.

The disappointing outcome, one of three unsuccessful rescue missions this year, highlights a new willingness by the Obama administration to try to save Americans held by terrorist groups despite risks that once would have been considered too great, senior U.S. officials said.

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