Luke Somers’ family has appealed in a video to al-Qaeda militants in Yemen to “show mercy” and release him.
In the online statement, the mother of the UK-born American hostage, Paula Somers, says: “Please… give us an opportunity to see our Luke again.”
A man identifying himself as Luke Somers, who was abducted in 2013, appeared in a separate video on December 3, saying his life was in danger and asking for help.
The US has revealed it tried to rescue Luke Somers in November 2014.
“Regrettably, Luke was not present, though hostages of other nationalities were present and were rescued,” the National Security Council said on December 4.
In a video posted on YouTube, Luke Somers’ mother and brother said he was “only trying to do good things for the Yemeni population”.
“Luke is only a photojournalist and is not responsible for any actions the US government has taken,” his brother, Jordan, said.
Noting that her son “appears healthy” in his captors’ video, Paula Somers said: “We thank you for that.”
Luke Somers, 33, worked as a journalist and photographer for local news organizations and his material appeared on international news outlets.
In the video released on December 3, a member of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) threatens to kill Luke Somers unless unspecified demands are met.
In a statement afterwards, the White House said President Barack Obama had authorized a rescue operation to free Luke Somers and other hostages last month, but that he was not present at the time of the raid.
On November 25, US and Yemeni forces rescued six Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian being held by AQAP in an operation at a mountain cave in the remote Hajr al-Sayar district of Hadramawt province. Seven militants were reportedly killed.
AQAP’s threat to kill Luke Somers follows the murder of five Western hostages – including three Americans – since August by the Islamist militant group Islamic State, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Obama administration has been criticized for not paying ransoms, not allowing hostage families to speak out and not taking opportunities to negotiate.
AQAP is regarded by the US as one of the deadliest offshoots of al-Qaeda.
The group is based in eastern Yemen and has built up support amid the unrest which has beset the impoverished country since the overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.
The US State Department has warned citizens and non-emergency government staff to leave Yemen “immediately” due to security threats.
It comes after the sudden closure of 20 US embassies and consulates on Sunday.
This was prompted by intercepted conversations between two senior al-Qaeda figures, including top leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, US media said.
The US earlier said the closures in North Africa and the Middle East were “out of an abundance of caution”.
A global travel alert issued on Tuesday said: “The US Department of State warns US citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.
“The department urges US citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those US citizens currently living in Yemen to depart immediately.”
It added that “the security threat level in Yemen is extremely high”.
The Yemeni capital has been experiencing unprecedented security measures, with hundreds of armoured military vehicles deployed to secure the presidential palace, vital infrastructural buildings and Western embassies in the capital.
The US State Department has warned citizens and non-emergency government staff to leave Yemen “immediately” due to security threats
A security source confirmed Yemeni intelligence services had discovered that tens of al-Qaeda members had arrived in Sanaa over the past few days from other regions in preparation for the implementation of a large plot.
The source described the plot as dangerous, and suggested it was to include explosions and suicide attacks aimed at Western ambassadors and foreign embassies in Yemen, in addition to operations aimed at the Yemeni military headquarters.
Both the White House and the US state department have said the current threat comes from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but have refused to divulge further details.
According to the New York Times, the US intercepted communications between Ayman al-Zawahiri and the group’s head in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi.
The paper said the conversation represented one of the most serious plots since the 9/11 attacks.
A number of US diplomatic posts in the region – including in the Yemeni capital Sanaa – will remain closed until Saturday.
Several European countries have also temporarily shut missions in Yemen and the UK Foreign Office is advising against all travel to the country.
A state department global travel alert, issued last week, is also in force until the end of August.
In its latest statement, the department referred to previous attacks on US embassies, including the storming of its compound in September 2012.
Earlier that month mob attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi had left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Meanwhile, officials in Yemen released the names of 25 al-Qaeda suspects, saying they had been planning attacks targeting “foreign offices and organizations and Yemeni installations” in the capital of Sanaa and other cities across the country.
AQAP, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, has also been blamed for the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit and for explosives-laden parcels that were intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.
Seven suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed in two US drone air strikes in southern Yemen in June, officials say.
Libyan authorities have arrested some 50 people in connection with Tuesday deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, the president of Libya’s interim assembly has said.
Mohamed Magarief told CBS News he had “no doubt” the attack was pre-planned.
That appears to contradict US envoy to the UN Susan Rice who told ABC that the evidence suggested it had been part of “spontaneous” protests.
US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US consulate staff were killed.
They died when the consulate in Benghazi was set ablaze, in protests apparently inspired by demonstrations at the US embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
It was part of a wave of violent protests in the Muslim world over an anti-Islam film made in the US.
Libyan authorities have arrested some 50 people in connection with Tuesday deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi
Some of the suspects in last Tuesday’s violence in Benghazi were from outside Libya, Mohamed Magarief told CBS News.
“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he said.
He said the suspects were connected to al-Qaeda, or its “affiliates and maybe sympathizers”.
“We don’t know what are the real intentions of these perpetrators,” he said.
“They entered Libya from different directions. Some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has said in a statement the attack avenged the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi – a Libyan-born al-Qaeda commander killed in June by a US drone strike in the North Waziristan-Afghan borderlands.
Susan Rice, meanwhile, told ABC that the the US’s “current best assessment” was that “this began as a spontaneous not a pre-meditated response” to the protests in Cairo.
“As that unfolded it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in the wake of the revolution in Libya are quite common and accessible and then it evolved from there,” she added.
The Benghazi violence was followed by a string of attacks on US consulates, embassies and business interests across the Middle East and north Africa. British, Swiss, German and Dutch properties were also targeted.
Two people were killed during protests outside the US embassy in the Tunisian capital, Tunis on Friday, while three were killed in clashes in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
On Saturday, the US ordered all non-essential staff to leave Tunisia and Sudan, fearing further violence. The US had asked Sudan for permission to send troops to protect its Khartoum embassy, but the request was turned down.
A State Department statement also advised US citizens in Tunisia to leave by commercial flights and those in Sudan to “exercise caution at all times”.
The Canadian government announced on Sunday it was closing its embassies in Sudan, Libya and Egypt for the day as a precautionary measure.
The US and Canadian announcements came as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula called for fresh attacks against Western embassies, describing the recent unrest as “a great event”, and urging protesters to unite to “expel the embassies of America from the lands of the Muslims”, AP reports.
Meanwhile a man involved in producing the film – a low-budget, amateurish production called Innocence of Muslims – has been questioned by police in the US.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula has admitted his role in the film but investigators are trying to find out whether he was the internet user named “sambacile” who posted a clip of it online.
He was freed on probation in June 2011 on condition that he did not use the internet without authorization or assume aliases.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was released by police after questioning and may have gone into hiding, the Associated Press reports.
Said al-Shihri, described as the second-in-command of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been killed in an operation in southern Yemen, government officials say.
Said al-Shihri was reportedly killed with six others in the Hadramawt area.
Some reports say Yemeni troops were involved, others that it was an air strike, possibly a US drone attack.
Said al-Shihri, a Saudi national, was released by the US from detention in Guantanamo Bay in 2007.
Yemen has previously announced it had killed Said al-Shihri and his death this time has not been confirmed.
The Yemeni army has been fighting Islamist militants in the south of the country for months.
Said al-Shihri, described as the second-in-command of AQAP, has been killed in an operation in southern Yemen
The Yemeni ministry of defence website said Said al-Shihri was killed along with six other militants in an operation, but gave few details.
Official sources in Yemen said the death occurred in an air raid in the Wadi Ain area of Hadramawt.
Military sources, however, said they had no information on the death and refused to confirm it. But the sources did confirm the area was subject to air raids.
Separate Yemeni sources said another Saudi and an Iraqi national were among the other people killed in the operation, which took place last Wednesday.
Yemeni defence ministry officials told Associated Press that the militants killed were travelling in a car and that it was hit by a missile believed to have been fired by a US drone, although this has not been confirmed.
Other reports say the operation was carried out by the Yemeni military.
US cables released by the Wikileaks website last December suggested that Yemen had allowed secret US air strikes against suspected Al-Qaeda militants.
Then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh claimed the raids were conducted by Yemen’s military when they were in fact carried out by the US, according to the cables.
AP quoted a senior official at President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s office as saying that DNA tests had not yet confirmed Said al-Shihri’s identity.
Said al-Shihri was said to have escaped a US drone attack on 20 September last year on the village of al-Mahfad in Abyan province.
He was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 and had been sent to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation.
The US has labelled AQAP the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda.
AQAP was formed in January 2009 by a merger between two regional offshoots of the international Islamist militant network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
It is now led by Nasser Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi, a former personal assistant to Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Al-Wuhayshi took over after two earlier leaders, Khaled Ali Hajj and Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, were killed by Saudi security forces.
The group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks and has been blamed by US President Barack Obama for attempting to blow up a US passenger jet as it flew into Detroit in December 2009.
In October 2010, the group was accused of sending bombs hidden in two packages addressed to synagogues in the US city of Chicago which were found on planes in Dubai and the UK.
Southern Yemen has been the scene of major clashes between militants and government forces.
The militants took advantage of the uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh in February to take control of large parts of the area.
Reports from the US say the al-Qaeda underwear bomber sent to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner was actually a double agent who infiltrated the group and volunteered for the suicide mission.
US officials are quoted as saying that the person dispatched by Yemen-based al-Qaeda to attack a US-bound plane had infiltrated the group.
In an apparent intelligence coup, the agent left Yemen with the device and delivered it to the CIA.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon says it is sending military trainers back to Yemen to help counter al-Qaeda militants.
US intelligence learned last month that militants with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen planned to attack a plane with a more sophisticated version of a bomb hidden in a passenger’s underwear, similar to one used in a failed 2009 attempt, Associated Press news agency reported.
Officials told US media that the would-be bomber had been recruited by Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency and sent to Yemen where he infiltrated the militants’ cell.
The double-agent was reportedly given an ambitious task by Saudi intelligence – to convince AQAP that he wanted to blow up himself and a US-bound aircraft.
The agent was given the device which he then delivered to the CIA and Saudi officials.
The New York Times reports that the double-agent is now safe in Saudi Arabia.
FBI analysts are studying the device.
The upgraded underwear bomb is described by officials as a “custom-fit” device that would have been difficult to detect even with careful security checks.
It is said to have two forms of detonator, unlike a similar bomb, from the same Yemeni source, that failed to explode on Christmas Day 2009.
Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
The main charge was a high-grade military explosive that “undoubtedly would have brought down an aircraft”, an official told the New York Times.
Experts quoted in the US media say both bombs bear the hallmarks of AQAP master bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri.
“The plot itself indicates that the terrorists keep trying… to devise more and more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a visit to India.
The agent also provided intelligence that led the CIA to conduct a drone strike in Yemen on Sunday that killed AQAP leader Fahd al-Quso, the New York Times reported.
Fahd al-Quso was wanted in connection with the bombing of the American destroyer USS Cole in Yemen 12 years ago. The US was offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture or death.
US officials told ABC News that Fahd al-Quso had been planning an attack similar to the failed 2009 attempt to blow up a passenger plane.
The device seized from Yemen shares some features with the bomb sewn into the underwear of would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab during that attempt, officials said.
The Nigerian was arrested when his device failed to explode fully while on a plane bound for Detroit.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that the US had “begun to reintroduce small numbers of trainers into Yemen”.
“We have been working with the government of Yemen and the Yemeni military for some time now to help them deal with the growing threat of al-Qaeda in Yemen,” he added.
Capt. John Kirby would not say how many trainers were involved or where they were based.
Months of political upheaval in Yemen have left militants in control of large parts of the south of the country.
Washington’s military training programme in Yemen was suspended in 2011 after then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was badly injured in a rocket attack.
Ali Abdullah Saleh gave way to his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in February after more than a year of mass pro-democracy protests and bouts of open warfare between rival groups.
US officials say FBI has foiled a plot by al-Qaeda in Yemen to detonate an upgraded version of the failed 2009 “underwear bomb”.
The device was seized in the Middle East following a CIA operation in Yemen and is now being studied by the FBI.
Reports say no target had been chosen and no plane tickets purchased by the time the alleged plot was foiled.
Officials say there was never any risk to the public. It is not clear what has happened to the would-be bomber.
Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee of the US House of Representatives, said counter-terrorism officials had told him: “We don’t have to worry about him anymore.”
The officials revealed that the would-be bomber was alive, but would not say whether he was in foreign custody, Peter King added.
US officials said the device had been seized in an unspecified Middle Eastern country outside Yemen within the last 10 days.
“As a result of close co-operation with our security and intelligence partners overseas, an improvised explosive device (IED) designed to carry out a terrorist attack has been seized abroad,” the FBI said.
“Initial exploitation indicates that the device is very similar to IEDs that have been used previously by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in attempted terrorist attacks, including against aircraft and for targeted assassinations,” it added.
President Barack Obama was first informed of the plot in April, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, adding the device had not posed a threat to the public.
The plot, disrupted as a result of US co-operation with other unnamed intelligence agencies, appears to have been caught at a relatively early stage – after the making of the bomb, but before the public was put at risk.
Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaeda leader, was killed on Sunday by a drone strike, behind the updated underpants bomb plot
“What this incident makes clear is that this country has to continue to remain vigilant against those that would seek to attack this country. And we will do everything necessary to keep America safe,” Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Monday.
Officials said it appeared that AQAP leaders in Yemen had instructed a suicide bomber to board any flight of his choosing to the US with the bomb under his clothes, but that he had been stopped before reaching an airport.
It is not clear who built the device, but officials said it shared some features with the bomb sewn into the underwear of would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
The Nigerian was arrested when his device failed to explode fully while on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
A US intelligence official said the latest device bore the “hallmarks” of the 2009 underwear bomb, which was built by the Saudi militant, Ibrahim al-Asiri.
It seems it is an improved model, with a more effective detonation system; it has no metal parts and probably would not have been detected by most airport security magnetometers.
It is not even clear if it would have been found by the body scanners that have been installed in some US airports after that attempted attack three years ago.
Abdulmutallab’s “underwear bomb” was not detected during security checks at airports in Lagos, Nigeria, and Amsterdam before he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 for Detroit.
On the flight, the bomb did not detonate fully and passengers had to put out the fire. He has been sentenced to life in prison.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said air security would continue to incorporate threat and vulnerability analysis, pre-screening and screening of passengers, as well as random searches at airports, air marshals and other unspecified security measures.
It added: “We have no specific, credible information regarding an active terrorist plot against the US at this time, although we continue to monitor efforts by al-Qaeda and its affiliates to carry out terrorist attacks, both in the homeland and abroad.”
News of the operation emerged shortly after the US marked one year since the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
It also comes one day after Fahd al-Quso, an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, was killed by a US drone strike.
The US had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Fahd al-Quso’s capture or death.
The Yemeni government has stepped up its battle against AQAP since Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down as president in November.
However, the group and its allies still control large parts of the country.