American photojournalist Luke Somers, held by al-Qaeda militants following his abduction in Yemen’s capital Sanaa in September last year, was killed during a failed rescue attempt early Saturday, his sister said.

Lucy Somers said she learned of her brother’s death from the FBI. “We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” she said. Lucy Somers gave the comments to the Associated Press.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking from Kabul where he made a surprise visit Saturday, subsequently confirmed the British-born hostage’s death following an unsuccessful raid to free him by U.S. and Yemeni special forces. Hagel described Somers’ death as murder at the hands of terrorists.

President Obama released a statement on Somers’ death.

“As this and previous hostage rescue operations demonstrate, the United States will spare no effort to use all of its military, intelligence, and diplomatic capabilities to bring Americans home safely, wherever they are located. And terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice,” Obama said.

“Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours. 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 authorized a rescue attempt yesterday, ” the president said.

Reports of Somers’ killing nonetheless seemed to contradict an earlier statement on the Yemen defense ministry’s website suggesting he had been freed following an alleged U.S. drone strike Saturday in Yemen that killed nine alleged al-Qaeda militants.

The drone struck at dawn in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, hitting a suspected militant hideout. It appears that Somers may have been shot by his captors during Saturday’s raid and that he died while being evacuated to a nearby U.S. naval ship to get treatment for his injures.

In a YouTube video released Wednesday, Somers, 33, says is certain his “life is in danger.”

The video features an al-Qaeda official and a brief message from Somers — dressed in a purple shirt and with a shaved head — at the end. He notes that he was born in England but has American citizenship and lived in America for most of his life.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Thursday that during a U.S. raid last month that attempted to free Somers he turned out not to be at the site.

Before her brother’s death, Lucy Somers released an online video describing him as a romantic who “always believes the best in people.” She ended with the plea: “Please let him live.”


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