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American hostage Luke Somers killed during rescue attempt in Yemen

Luke Somers, an American photojournalist held hostage in Yemen, was killed by al Qaeda during a failed rescue mission, White House officials said Saturday.

American photojournalist Luke Somers, held hostage in Yemen, was killed by al Qaeda during a "dangerous" rescue bid, his family and the White House said Saturday.

U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted a mission on White House orders amid "compelling reasons" to believe Somers' life was in imminent danger, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. Another hostage, South African Pierre Korkie, was also killed in the operation.

President Barack Obama condemned the killing of British-born U.S. citizen Somers as "barbaric."

Somers' sister, Lucy, told NBC News' U.K. partner ITV News that the FBI had informed the family of the 33-year-old's death. They declined to be interviewed.

Somers, a teacher and photographer, was abducted a year ago in Sanaa where he had been working as a freelance photographer for the Yemen Times.

Friday's operation took place in Shabwa province, a Yemen interior ministry official told NBC News, adding that several militants were also killed.

It came two days after the Pentagon acknowledged an earlier U.S. commando mission to rescue Somers had also failed. Al Qaeda posted a video Thursday that showed Somers and a local militant commander threatening that the hostage would meet his fate in three days if the U.S. didn't meet the group's demands.

Because Somers' life was in "imminent danger," two dozen Navy Seals executed the "high-risk" mission to rescue him, but found him and Korkie gravely wounded when they arrived, a senior U.S. military official told NBC News. The two had apparently been shot by their captors. The men were loaded onto a U.S. medevac helicopter, but both succumbed to their wounds while being transported to the U.S. Navy ship, the USS Makin Island, off the coast of Yemen.

Charlene Gubash and Jim Miklaszewski contributed to this report.