Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has threatened to kill an American hostage unless the U.S. government meets unspecified demands within three days.
In a video released Thursday, a man who says he is Luke Somers says he is certain his life is in danger.
“I am looking for any help that can get me out of this situation,” he said.
A British-born U.S. citizen, 33-year-old Somers was captured by gunmen in Sanaa more than a year ago. He had been working for several years as a photojournalist in Yemen.
“We are aware of a video showing Luke Somers, a U.S. citizen held hostage by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP]," said National Security Council spokesman Bernadette Meehan, in a statement released today.
In the video, a militant warns the United States of "any other foolish action."
"We give the American government a timeframe of three days from the issuance of this statement to meet our demands about which they are aware," says the al-Qaida member. "Otherwise, the American hostage held by us will meet his inevitable fate."
The Pentagon said Somers was one of the hostages they had hoped to rescue in a joint mission with Yemeni forces late last month.
Eight hostages were freed - six Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian - and seven militants were killed in the raid in eastern Yemen. But Somers was gone when U.S. special forces arrived on the scene. It is believed that he was moved shortly before the operation.
The Yemeni defense ministry's 26sept.net website later quoted a soldier who had participated in the rescue as saying an American, a Briton and a South African held there had been moved elsewhere two days earlier.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby today confirmed the operation was an attempt to free Somers.
"The United States attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of hostages, including U.S. citizen Luke Somers, held in Yemen by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula," he said in a statement. "This operation was conducted in partnership with the armed forces of Yemen and involved air and ground components."
His statement marked the first time the United States has publicly disclosed the failed rescue attempt.
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the secret raid.
"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," said Meehan. "Regrettably, Luke was not present."
Details about the mission remain classified.
It was not immediately clear if the threats are related to the raid, or to the ongoing U.S. drone strikes against AQAP, which have targeted militants but also led to civilian casualties.
AQAP is one of the most active branches of al-Qaida, and militants have launched attacks from there against the West, including the failed attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound aircraft in 2009.
“We are behind our brothers against this international crusade and we join them in their enmity against this campaign,” AQAP said in an online statement.
Al-Qaida and its affiliates are believed to make tens of millions of dollars annually in ransom for hostages and have condemned the widely publicized hostage killings by its rival, the Islamic State. U.S. and British policy is to not pay ransom.
The video, which was posted on YouTube, is undated and was widely distributed on Twitter.
Some information in this report comes from Reuters.