SANAA, Yemen — A top al-Qaida leader in Yemen on Thursday blamed President Barack Obama for the deaths last week of an American and a South African hostage in a failed U.S. rescue operation.
The video message by Nasr bin Ali al-Ansi, posted on one of the militant group's Twitter accounts, was the first comment by al-Qaida's Yemeni branch on the killings of Luke Somers and Pierre Korkie. The two were killed when U.S. special forces attacked an al-Qaida safe house attempting to rescue American photojournalist Somers. Officials said U.S. forces did not know that he and Korkie, a South African schoolteacher, were being held together.
About 40 U.S. special operations forces, backed by Yemeni ground forces, were involved in the half-hour rescue attempt in Shabwa province, which followed U.S. drone strikes in the area east of the capital of Sanaa, U.S. officials said. After a firefight with militants, the rescuers eventually reached the men and found them alive but gravely wounded. They both died shortly after as medics tried to save them.
Al-Ansi said he warned the U.S. against such attempts after an earlier, first rescue attempt in November also failed. He accused Obama of recklessness, and said the raid "caused things to go in a completely different way than we wanted."
Obama said he ordered the raid because the 33-year-old Somers was believed to be in "imminent danger." The president condemned Somers' killing as a "barbaric murder."
Al-Ansi described the rescue operation as an "execution order" and claimed that poorly equipped militants fended off heavily armed U.S. forces for nearly three hours.
Initial al-Qaida demands were never clear. Al-Ansi on Thursday claimed that al-Qaida wanted to negotiate the release of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. He also mentioned Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the "Blind Sheik", who is serving a life sentence in the United States on a terrorism conviction.
"They could have at least negotiated with us about some clauses or shown sincerity," he added.
Al-Ansi also warned that al-Qaida would continue to "put the lives of all Americans in danger inside and outside of America ... in the air, on the ground and in the sea."
Washington considers Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch is officially known, to be the most dangerous affiliate of the terror group founded by Osama bin Laden. The group has been linked to several sophisticated plots to attack the U.S. homeland that were either botched or foiled.
With the permission of Yemen's government, the U.S. has for years launched drone strikes against militant targets in the country and provided Yemen with hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance. Civilian casualties from the drone strikes have stoked anger.
Hours before the release of the video, the al-Qaida affiliate said it shelled a Yemeni air base used by U.S. forces.
It was not immediately clear if there were casualties at the Al-Annad base early Thursday in the southern province of Lahj. Ambulance rushed to the site and witnesses say they saw bodies taken to nearby hospital. The base is where American and European military advisers help Yemen battle Yemen's al-Qaida branch.
The militant group claimed on its official Twitter account that its militants fired six grad missiles at the base. In a brief statement, the group said it hit the "American section" of the base, in retaliation for killings of Yemenis, including the group's fighters, during last week's U.S. raid.
There was no immediate comment from the Yemeni government or Washington.