TIME Australia

3 Dead After Police Storm Sydney Café to End Hostage Crisis

Hours-long standoff ends in chaotic scene

Heavily armed police in Australia stormed a Sydney café where a gunman had held more than a dozen people hostage early Tuesday, ending a tense standoff that lasted more than 16 hours and saw at least three people die, including the gunman.

Police could be seen entering the café at about 2:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, after a gunman held at 17 people in the central business district of Australia’s largest city. Gunshots could be heard ringing out on video feeds from the scene, and local media reports indicated injuries were sustained by both hostages and police.

The gunman died in the police raid, authorities said, and he was identified as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born man and a self-described cleric who has been on authorities’ radar in the past. A chaotic scene unfolded as police raided the café, with hostages running outside and an officer carrying out at least one ailing hostage.

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said the gunman had carried out “horrendous vicious attacks.”

“We are a peaceful society which is the envy of the world,” he said in a televised news conference. “Today we must come together like never before.”

Two hostages died, five escaped and six were uninjured, police said. At least one police officer suffered a minor gunshot wound to the face, but was alive. Police wouldn’t say whether the hostages were killed by the gunman or in crossfire during the raid, the Associated Press reports.

“They believed if they didn’t enter there would have been many more lives lost,” New South Wales Police commissioner Andrew Scipione said of the officers’ decision to raid the café. “Events that were unfolding inside of the premises led them to the belief that now was the time to deploy.”

It started Monday morning, when hostages were seen displaying a black-and-white flag in the window of the Lindt café in Martin Place — a major commercial precinct usually crowded with office workers and tourists and, at this time of year, Christmas shoppers.

The flag bore, in Arabic text, what was thought to be the shahada, or Muslim testimony of faith. The flag, which is commonly flown by Islamist terrorist groups, sparked fears that a terrorist attack was unfolding. But Sydney police had not said if it is a terrorist attack, and an official later described it as an “isolated incident.” Authorities confirmed earlier they had made contact with the perpetrator and were in negotiations. Several hostages had left the scene late Monday before the chaos that unfolded early Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed overnight on the crisis.

“This is a very disturbing incident,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a televised address earlier Monday. “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.

“We are a free, open and generous people, and today we have responded to this in character,” he added. “Yes, it has been a difficult day. Yes, it has been a day which has tested us, but so far, like Australians in all sorts of situations, we have risen to the challenge.”

Australia’s paramount figure on Islamic law, the Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, issued a statement “unequivocally” condemning the action. He said the Muslim community was “devastated” by the incident and said such actions are “denounced in part and in whole in Islam.”

Buildings in the area, including the famed Sydney Opera House and the U.S. consulate, had been evacuated, with office workers taken to nearby Hyde Park. Martin Place train station, one of Sydney’s busiest, was closed, as were major nearby roads.

“Sometimes here in Australia you think something like this would never happen so it’s pretty shocking to see,” Kristina Ryan, who works nearby at Circular Quay, said Monday. “It’s been really frustrating with the lack of information and how much longer can they expect us to just sit here without understanding why this is happening? I think that’s really adding to the fear people are feeling in the city.”

Ryan said that fear was amplified as she and her co-workers watched as authorities evacuated the Opera House.

“There are lots of government buildings around. It’s a very busy place, especially on a Monday morning,” Clarke Jones, a terrorism expert at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, tells TIME.

The unfolding hostage crisis comes more than two months after Australian authorities foiled a terrorist plot by local supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), who were reportedly planning to behead members of the public in Martin Place.

Days later, on Sept. 21, forces affiliated with ISIS released a 42-minute audio recording calling on followers to attack non-Muslims in Australia. The call to arms appears to have been made in retaliation for Canberra’s deployment of military personnel and fighter jets to the Middle East to fight in the international coalition against ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria and Iraq.

According to Jones, officials believe that up to 60 Australian nationals and residents are currently fighting in jihadist ranks in the Middle East. Dozens are believed to have already returned to Australia.

“They haven’t been prosecuted, but we don’t know at this stage if they’ve come back with an added intent to continue the fight here in Australia,” says Jones. “It’s hard to know.”

As darkness fell on Monday evening, a crowd of around 200 people remained milling around the scene. “Everyone was quite calm,” says Victor Domni, who works at Macquarie Bank directly across from the Lindt café and was among the first to be evacuated this morning. “I wasn’t in a position to do anymore work so I was ready to go home. I’m quite hesitant to go into work tomorrow because it’s quite scary.”

“We’ve seen this on the news happening in other places and it’s finally hit home so it’s a bit shocking,” he adds.

Abbott urged his fellow Australians to remain coolheaded.

“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society,” he said on Monday morning. “Nothing should ever change that.”

— With reporting by Courtney Subramanian / Sydney

Read next: Australians Use #IllRideWithYou Hashtag in Solidarity With Muslims During Sydney Siege

TIME National Security

Attack on Sony Marks a Dangerous Escalation in Cyber Warfare

US-ENTERTAINMENT-SONY-CYBER-ATTACK
The electronic attack on Sony Pictures marks a sharp escalation in cyber warfare, a senior lawmaker said Friday. Frederick J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images

House intel chief warns that U.S. continues to ignore all-but-certain impending disaster

The recent cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment marks a sharp escalation in computer warfare and highlights the growing U.S. vulnerability to a cataclysmic attack, the outgoing chairman of the House Intelligence Committee warned Friday.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., says a nation-state is responsible for the attack. The culpable country, he suggested, is most likely North Korea, stung by the company’s new production of The Interview, a movie comedy built around a U.S. plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

“That was the first [time]—if you take at face value public reports—a nation state decided a retribution act could result in destroying data, bringing down a company,” Rogers said. While he declined to finger North Korea as the culprit, he made it clear he believes it is responsible.

Pyongyang has said it had nothing to do with the attack, which destroyed Sony computer files and took the company’s computers offline. The hackers also stole terabytes of embarrassing internal information, some of which has been leaked, including senior executives making racist jokes about President Obama. But North Korea praised the attack as a “righteous deed.”

“I would argue, as a former FBI guy,” Rogers said, “that when a nation state says ‘This group…did this on behalf of the North Korean people because of the Great Leader, and we appreciate it,’ as we would say in the FBI, that is a clue.”

Rogers said the U.S. must beef up its cyber defenses, and warned that the public continuing sense that it has more to fear from the federal National Security Agency than hackers is misplaced. A recent bill that would have given the NSA a bigger role in protecting U.S. computer systems failed to make it through the Senate after passing in the House.

Rogers said there has been a series of smaller attacks that should have awakened the U.S. to the problem:

I thought maybe Target would kind of do it, like `Hey, now we’re finally seeing how sophisticated these folks are. That was an international criminal enterprise using nation-state capability.’ I thought ‘Hey, that’ll be good—now we’ll get their attention.’ People went ‘Nah, whatever—it didn’t cost me any money.’ Then they went to SuperValu, it went to others, now it went to your medical records, it went into your financial records.

Even the attack on Sony didn’t have the impact Rogers believes it should have:

The result of Sony on the public psyche is, ‘Holy mackerel, I want to be a movie producer—those guys make a lot of money.’

Rogers, who is leaving Congress after 14 years to become a talk-radio host, said such nonchalance is dangerous. “Somebody, at some point, is going to decide to flick the switch,” he said. “And when they do, we will have a significant economic catastrophic event.”

TIME intelligence

Torture Debate Once Again Hinges on a ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia
The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Va. Larry Downing—Reuters

The metaphor comes back

In the debate over the government’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques to question terror suspects the classic scenario put forth to defend torture is the “ticking time bomb.” Throughout the 2000s, torture proponents raised the specter of an imminent attack on innocent Americans to argue that coercive tactics might not just be permissible but morally necessary.

In the wake of the release of a Senate report critical of the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture the metaphor has returned with a vengeance.

In summarizing the findings Tuesday on the floor of the Senate, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said that Senate investigators never found a single instance of it happening.

“At no time did the C.I.A.’s coercive interrogation techniques lead to the collection of intelligence on an imminent threat that many believe was the justification for the use of these techniques. The Committee never found an example of this hypothetical ticking time bomb scenario,” she said.

But in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal online shortly after Feinstein began speaking, six former directors and deputy directors of the CIA argued that was too narrow of a reading of what a “ticking time bomb” means.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, former directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden wrote that the CIA “had evidence that al Qaeda was planning a second wave of attacks,” that Osama bin Laden had met with Pakistani nuclear scientists and reports (which turned out not to be accurate) that nuclear weapons were being smuggled into New York and evidence that al Qaeda was trying to manufacture anthrax.

“It felt like the classic ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario—every single day,” they wrote.

On page 181, the Senate report notes that the “ticking time bomb” was also used as a justification by former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee in a response to a Department of Justice report. Bybee stated that “the ‘ticking time bomb’ that could justify the necessity defense was, in fact, a ‘real world’ scenario,” arguing that convicted terrorist Jose Padilla was believed to have planted a dirty bomb when he was captured, an account Senate investigators say was “inaccurate.”

According to The New Yorker, the “ticking time bomb” conceit first appeared in a 1960 novel about the counterinsurgency tactics France employed in defending its occupation of Algeria—a fictionalized account that does not appear to have been based in actual events. The scenario enjoyed its greatest notoriety as the central plot device for every season of the fictional show 24. But Senate investigators say that’s where it remains — in the realm of fiction.

TIME Terrorism

Lawyers Believe Torture Report Will Help Prosecution of CIA Agents in Europe

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein discusses a newly released Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's anti-terrorism tactics, in the U.S. Senate in Washington, Dec. 9, 2014.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein discusses a newly released Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's anti-terrorism tactics, in the U.S. Senate in Washington, Dec. 9, 2014. Reuters

The Senate Committee's explicit description of US torture may facilitate legal action

The lawyers of those who’ve spent years in U.S. detention centers like Guantánamo Bay did not expect any surprises in the Senate’s torture report, which described the CIA’s tactics as “brutal”; the prisoners’ lawyers have already heard hours of grim testimony about what their clients endured.

Yet even so, they say, the Senate report could be a breakthrough in cases that have dragged on for years in the U.S. and Europe — and could pave the way for fresh legal action against the CIA’s top officials for permitting torture. “The gaps have been between the CIA agents involved and the higher-ups conducting this policy,” says Wolfgang Kaleck, a lawyer and director of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin, which has brought criminal cases against the U.S. military and CIA agents in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and France. Kaleck says lawyers will now study the Senate report for signs that the coercive tactics were a policy directed from the agency’s top levels, rather than simply the actions of errant employees. “It would hopefully allow us to argue for command responsibility for torture,” he told TIME on Tuesday.

Take the case of Khaled al-Masri. In 2003, al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen, was mistakenly arrested in Macedonia because his name was similar to a wanted al-Qaeda militant. He was sent to a U.S. prison in Afghanistan as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ordered Macedonian officials to reward al-Masri damages for his being “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded” after his arrest. Yet the Senate report makes clear that al-Masri also suffered abuse at the hands of the CIA, which conducted “enhanced interrogation techniques” that included sleep deprivation.

But the more serious criminal indictments in courts in Germany against the 13 CIA agents involved in Masri’s detention have languished for years because the agents have scrupulously avoided traveling to Europe — where they are likely to be arrested — making a hearing against them effectively fruitless. Another case against the agents, filed in Spain, has been closed. The Senate torture report says that in 2007, the CIA’s Inspector General said the agency, “lacked sufficient basis to render and detain al-Masri.” Yet the CIA opted not to charge the agents involved, arguing that “the scale tips decisively in favor of accepting mistakes” rather than erring on the side of “under-connecting” the dots.

Al-Masri’s is not the only case the Senate report could impact. In a similar trial, an Italian judge convicted 22 CIA agents in their absence in 2009, for the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr on a street in Milan in 2003, and sending him to a jail in Egypt, where he says he was tortured. The agents were sentenced to jail terms ranging from seven to nine years. But the convictions remain symbolic, since the Italian government, a close ally of Washington, refused to seek their extradition from the U.S.

The Senate’s torture report makes it no more likely that those CIA agents will ever see the inside of an Italian jail. Still, lawyers say the very fact that the agency’s torture tactics are now written into an official U.S. document could make it far easier for them to argue their case in court. This is especially true in countries that are close allies in the U.S.’s anti-terrorism campaign, and which have tried to block cases from being heard on the grounds of political sensitivities. Lawyers believe that the release of the Senate report suggests that government officials are taking torture claims far more seriously than they did before, and they hope that will lead to closer scrutiny not only of CIA abuses but also by the U.S. military. “It’s evidence of a broader social trend, that we are considering more honestly the nature of the torture program,” says attorney Cori Crider, who represents several people the CIA rendered to U.S.-run prisons in the early 2000s; she spoke from Uruguay, where she was meeting her client, Abu Waled Dhiab, one of the six Guantánamo prisoners freed last weekend and flown there.

After years of legal wrangling, Libyan politician Abdel-Hakim Belhaj finally won the right to sue Britain’s intelligence agency MI6, for a joint MI6-CIA operation against him in 2003, when Belhaj and his wife were snatched from their Bangkok home and flown to Libya. There, Belhaj, a conservative Islamist, faced years of torture in one of Muammar Gaddafi’s notorious jails. “The British government has always said those cases cannot go to trial because ‘it will damage our relations with the U.S.,'” Crider says. “But if the Senate is involved in a very detailed examination of torture, that excuse by the British government is exposed for the kabuki that it is.”

The Senate report may have given the lawyers much more ammunition but now they have to take the battle back to the courts.

TIME Torture Report

Torture Report: Here’s Where the Key Players Are Now

With the Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program coming out, it’s a good time for an update on the major players. From al Qaeda-hunting CIA officers to the legal architects of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, here are the people who played key roles in the Bush administration program, and what they’re up to now.

 

  • George W. Bush

    George W. Bush
    Former U.S. President George W. Bush attends a game between the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas on Aug. 31, 2014. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images

    As President, George W. Bush approved the CIA’s interrogation program and when it became public, famously said, “We don’t torture.” Since leaving the White House, Bush has largely stayed off the public stage, giving infrequent interviews, opening his presidential library and learning to paint.

  • Dick Cheney

    Dick Cheney
    Former Vice President Dick Cheney appears on NBC News' "Today" show on October 21, 2013 NBC NewsWire/Getty Images

    Vice President Dick Cheney was a key behind-the-scenes advocate for harsher interrogation programs. He has remained a vocal supporter of the policies in the years since he stepped down, arguing that they helped prevent another terrorist attack after 9/11.

  • John Ashcroft

    John Ashcroft
    Former Attorney General John Ashcroft is seated before President Barack Obama and James Comey arrive for Comey's installation ceremony as FBI director in Washington on OCt. 28, 2013. Charles Dharapak—AP

    As Attorney General, Ashcroft told the CIA’s general counsel that he saw no problem with waterboarding one detainee 119 times. He now runs the Ashcroft Group, a D.C. lobbying firm, and the Ashcroft Law Firm.

  • George Tenet

    George Tenet CIA
    George Tenet, former CIA director, listens during an interview in New York City on April 30, 2007. Bebeto Matthews—AP

    The second-longest serving CIA director in history, George Tenet was in charge of the agency that ran the interrogation programs. Since stepping down in 2004, he’s written a memoir that defended the policy and now works as a managing director of the investment bank Allen & Company in New York City.

  • Michael Hayden

    Michael Hayden
    Former CIA Director Michael Hayden participates in a news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. on Jan. 15, 2009. Luis Alvarez—AP

    Hayden led the CIA from 2006 to 2009, and was the first official to brief the full intelligence committees on the interrogation programs. Now he’s a principal at the Chertoff group, a security consulting firm, and a visiting professor at George Mason University.

  • John Yoo

    John Yoo
    Former Department of Justice official John Yoo testifies before the House Judiciary committee in Washington on June 26, 2008. Melissa Golden—Getty Images

    As a top lawyer at Bush’s Justice Department, Yoo was the chief author of the legal opinions that legitimized the interrogation techniques that critics say constitute torture. The opinions have shielded Bush administration officials from being charged with violating the anti-torture statute. Yoo is now a law professor at UC Berkeley.

  • Porter Goss

    Porter Goss, director of the U.S.A Centr
    Porter Goss, Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in Paris on Jan. 20, 2012. Jacques DeMarthon—AFP/Getty Images

    Goss served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004. He later became the CIA director, and internal CIA documents released in 2010 showed him agreeing with the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogations of two Al Qaeda detainees. The destruction of those tapes prompted an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee and led to the report that will be released Tuesday. Goss is now the Chairman of the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

  • John McLaughlin

    John MCLAUGHLIN
    John McLaughlin, Former CIA deputy director, answers questions during a news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. on July 9, 2004. Lawrence Jackson—AP

    McLaughlin was Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from 2000 to 2004, the number two at the agency during the years that waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harsh techniques were used. Now he teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

  • Marty Martin

    Marty Martin
    Ex-CIA Operative Marty Martin, from the film "Manhunt," poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge in Park City, Utah on Jan. 21, 2013. Victoria Will—Invision/AP

    Martin was a CIA official who oversaw the agency’s efforts to find and interrogate al Qaeda operatives from 2002 to 2004. He is now a security consultant.

  • Ali Soufan

    Ali Soufan
    Ali Soufan poses at the offices at his security firm, the Soufan Group, in New York City Sept. 13, 2011. Zinta Lundborg—Bloomberg/Getty Images

    Soufan is a former FBI interrogator who debriefed al Qaeda suspects before and after 9/11 and has been critical of the CIA’s interrogation program. He is now a security consultant.

  • Jose Rodriguez

    Jose Rodriguez
    Jose Rodriguez CIA/AP

    Rodriguez ran the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in the aftermath of 9/11 when the CIA employed enhanced interrogation methods. He told TIME in 2011 that these techniques led to the death of Osama bin Laden. He is now a security consultant.

TIME Guantanamo

Where Are All Those Freed Guantanamo Detainees Now?

Moazzam Begg, a Pakistani-British man who spent three years in Guantanamo between 2002 and 2005.
Moazzam Begg, a Pakistani-British man who spent three years in Guantanamo between 2002 and 2005, pictured in London, Oct. 1, 2014. Rob Stothard—Getty Images

More than 600 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have ended up in over 53 countries

Over the dozen years since the Guantanamo Bay detention camp opened, more than 630 people have been allowed to leave the controversial U.S. prison in Cuba.

Over the weekend, six more inmates joined their ranks when they were moved to Uruguay as President Barack Obama continued to attempt to fulfill his long-held promise of shuttering the prison. The latest transfers reduced the number of inmates to 136, the lowest since the prison’s earliest days.

But where did all those inmates go? Those who have been transferred or released have been sent to at least 53 different countries, according to a list compiled by the New York Times and NPR. The majority have been repatriated to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but hundreds of others have been repatriated or transferred to countries around the world.

(See more: Inside Guantanamo)

The majority have stayed away from terrorist activity and attempted to resume their lives, often in unexpected places. But 107 former detainees have since engaged in terrorist activity and another 77 are suspected of engaging in it as of July, the Office of Director of National Intelligence said in its semiannual report.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the countries that harbor former Gitmo detainees:

The United Kingdom

Moazzam Begg, one of 14 detainees transferred to Britain, is a British citizen of Pakistani descent who was detained in Pakistan in 2002 as a suspected al-Qaeda member and sent to Guantanamo for three years. He was released and dispatched to Britain in 2005, where he became a public speaker and activist; he was arrested again last February and charged with funding terrorism in Syria. Those charges were dropped in October.

Kuwait

Fawzi al-Odah was repatriated to Kuwait in November after nearly 13 years without a trial, marking the first of a recent wave of transfers from Guantanamo. As part of the agreement with Kuwait, which has taken in 11 former detainees, al-Odah will remain in custody for a yearlong rehabilitation program.

France

Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian who was detained while living in Bosnia in 2001, spent seven years in Guantanamo. Boumediene, who had been working for the Muslim branch of the Red Cross, went on a two-year hunger strike opposing his detention, and his case was brought to the Supreme Court, which issued a seminal decision in 2008 that Boumediene and other Guantanamo prisoners had a right to use the writ of habeas corpus under the U.S. Constitution. In the wake of that decision, he was ordered released — and in 2009 became one of nine former detainees who have been transferred to France, where he settled with his wife and three children.

Spain

Lahcen Ikassrien was handed over to Spanish custody in 2005 after the alleged Taliban fighter spent four years in Guantanamo; Spain soon released him for lack of evidence. In June, he was among nine people detained in a police sting on a network of jihadist recruiters.

Georgia

Six Guantanamo inmates have been transferred to Georgia since 2010, including three Yemenis who were resettled there last month (two others were sent to Slovakia).

Qatar

Six inmates have been transferred to Qatar, including one Qatari citizen in 2008 and five Afghan citizens who were released in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl earlier this year in a Qatar-brokered deal with the Taliban. As part of the agreement, Qatar said it would impose a one-year travel ban on the five men.

Bermuda

In 2009, four Chinese Muslim men who had spent seven years in the U.S. prison were sent to Bermuda. The men, members of the restive Uighur community from Western China, were among the 22 Uighurs who had been detained in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan but were later determined not have been enemy combatants. China called for their repatriation–which would have likely led to continued imprisonment–but then Bermuda Prime Minister Ewart Brown negotiated their release. Yet five years after they arrived in Bermuda, activists said that the men still lacked passports and were effectively stranded on the island.

Uruguay

The six men now in Uruguay, including four Syrians, a Tunisian, and a Palestinian, are expected to learn Spanish and adapt to new lives in Uruguay after more than 12 years in Guantanamo. They had been approved for release in 2009 but the U.S. could not find a destination for them until Uruguayan President Jose Mujica agreed to accept them on humanitarian grounds. “It is difficult for me to express how grateful I am for the immense trust that you, the Uruguayan people, placed in me and the other prisoners when you opened the doors of your country to us,” Abedlhadi Omar Faraj, one of the Syrian former inmates, said in a statement released by his attorney.

TIME Terrorism

Handicapping the SEAL Raid to Rescue Luke Somers in Yemen

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A V-22 lifts off from the USS Makin Island near Yemen in October 2014, just as SEALs did early Saturday in their effort to rescue U.S. hostage Luke Somers. Lawrence Davis—U.S. Navy

The best troops and technology also need some luck

When Navy SEALs sought Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan three years ago, no one really cared if he ended up dead or alive. When SEALs flew into southern Yemen early Saturday to rescue American captive Luke Somers, they only succeeded in rescuing his body.

The sad outcome only highlights the challenges associated with two kinds of war: getting bad guys is a lot easier than getting good guys.

It’s like the Star Wars missile-defense shield writ small. In the raid to kill or capture bin Laden, the U.S. could crash one of its two choppers inside his walled compound and still declare victory. When playing offense, you can afford to break a lot of furniture along the way and still achieve success. But when you want to spring a captive to freedom, everything — intelligence, reconnaissance, weather, allies, and hardware, not to mention the troops themselves — has to work perfectly to accomplish the mission.

Think of it as drawing to an inside straight. Repeatedly.

Despite a reputation burnished by bin Laden’s banishment, such missions are never slam dunks. U.S. troops tried to rescue Somers in a Nov. 25 raid, but he had been moved days earlier. They’d tried to rescue American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff inside Syria in July, before the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria beheaded them. Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker, died in a U.S. rescue attempt in Afghanistan in 2010.

Plainly, trying to rescue hostages being held by suicidal zealots is a dicey proposition. The Internet lit up Sunday with debate over the merits of the mission. “Sharp contrast: @cnn calls Yemen op ‘failed msn’ repeatedly; @foxandfriends calls op ‘rescue attempt’ & praises it,” tweeted Phil Carter, an Army veteran of Iraq who is now at the Center for a New American Security.

That, of course, is the current, binary, cable-TV way. In reality, it was both: a praiseworthy rescue mission that failed. It’s too bad that such nuance is beyond the realm of much public discourse these days.

Part of the challenge is the U.S. refusal to negotiate with kidnappers of Americans, as some European nations do. The U.S. government has long maintained that paying ransom only heightens the chance that more Americans will be seized. But the refusal to negotiate increases the chance of U.S. captives being executed, which ratchets up pressure for the U.S. to launch rescue missions, however slim their chances of succeeding.

Following Somers’ death, President Barack Obama told the nation to expect more such efforts: “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.”

As Americans are learning, there is little to be gained by waiting, when dealing with al Qaeda and its carbon copies replicating along the ancient arc of crisis. “Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours,” Obama said in Saturday’s statement. “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.”

Bottom line: the U.S. and its military had only a small window to try to rescue their fellow citizen. “They were going to kill this American hostage anyway,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Sunday.

So a raiding party, 40 SEAL Team 6 commandos and their associates, left the USS Makin Island off the Yemeni coast early Saturday local time on V-22 tilt-rotors. They landed near their objective amid rough terrain and began, as stealthily as possible, approaching their goal. Pentagon officials say they had come within 100 yards of Somers when something — it may have been a barking dog — alerted the militants guarding Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie. Reconnaissance revealed that once the jihadists knew they were under attack, a firefight broke out. One of the captors went inside a building, where he shot and mortally wounded the two men.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel detailed the complex nature of such an operation, shortly after it ended, while on a visit to Afghanistan:

A rescue mission for a hostage is a very complicated matter. It consists of intelligence that we must have tremendous confirmation or the best we can get on, even before an operation is considered. Intelligence is aware of where that hostage is, who is holding that hostage, where, all the dimensions of security around that hostage. The next piece of that is the operational plan itself, which is very complicated. Many parts, moving parts, all at one time.

It’s a safe bet that no one is more bitterly disappointed at the outcome, other than the men’s families, than those who carried it out. Their angst could only be compounded when the relief organization that employed Korkie said that his captors had planned to free him Sunday, the day after his murder, in a negotiated release.

The intelligence the SEALs had — harvested by satellites, drones and eavesdropping gear — was amazing. The rest of their hardware, from ship to shore and back again, apparently worked flawlessly.

But sometimes the best commandos and machines in the world lack the luck that is always a vital ingredient for such an assignment. That missing element shouldn’t detract from what they were trying to accomplish, and how close they came.

Read next: U.S. Hostage Killed During Failed Rescue Attempt in Yemen

TIME Terrorism

U.S. Hostage Killed During Failed Rescue Attempt in Yemen

Luke Somers killed in failed rescue attempt
A file photograph made available Dec. 4 shows Luke Somers, a 33-year-old British born US journalist who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda's Yemen affiliate and was reportedly killed in failed rescue attempt. Yahya Arhab—EPA

Al Qaeda captors had threatened to kill him

U.S. hostage Luke Somers, held by an al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen for more than a year, was killed late Friday amid a U.S. rescue mission.

“There were compelling reasons to believe Mr. Somers’ life was in imminent danger,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “Both Mr. Somers and a second non-U.S. citizen hostage were murdered by the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists during the course of the operation.” The second victim was South African teacher Pierre Korkie.

President Obama issued a statement saying he’d authorized the rescue attempt after the terrorists holding him “announced Luke would be killed within 72 hours” on Wednesday.

“I’m looking for any help that can get me out of this situation,” Somers said in a video posted by his captors on YouTube the same day. “I’m certain that my life is in danger. So as I sit here now, I ask if there’s anything that can be done, please let it be done.”

The rescue raid, conducted by U.S. Special Forces, was the second acknowledged attempt to rescue Somers. Following the first attempt Nov. 25, Somers’ captors had said he would kill him if certain “well known” actions were not taken, and warned a second rescue attempt would lead to his death.

Hagel gave few additional details about the mission, other than to say it took place in central Yemen, “in partnership” with the Yemeni government.

Lucy Somers, Luke’s sister, told the Associated Press that the FBI told her of her brother’s fate. “We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” she said.

Before the failed raid, the White House denied any suggestion that it had delayed the original rescue attempt to debate its risks. One hostage rescued in that mission said Somers had been moved from the initial raid site shortly before the rescue attempt took place.

Somers, a 33-year old freelance reporter, had been kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sana 15 months ago.

Hagel said “several” AQAP terrorists were killed in Friday’s effort. Seven of them were killed in the first raid.

TIME Military

U.S. Attempted to Rescue Al Qaeda Hostage in Yemen

A video grab taken from a propaganda video released by al-Malahem Media on Dec. 4, 2014 purportedly shows hostage Luke Somers, 33, kidnapped more than a year ago in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, calling for help and saying that his life is in danger.
A video grab taken from a propaganda video released by al-Malahem Media on Dec. 4, 2014 purportedly shows hostage Luke Somers, 33, kidnapped more than a year ago in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, calling for help and saying that his life is in danger. AFP/Getty Images

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has threatened to kill photojournalist Luke Somers

The United States attempted to rescue an American hostage being held by an Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, according to the Pentagon.

Luke Somers, a 33-year-old photojournalist and interpreter, was captured in Yemen 14 months ago, reports ABC News. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released a video of Somers Wednesday night, threatening to kill him in three days if President Obama doesn’t “meet our demands.”

The Pentagon issued a statement Thursday to “provide accurate information” after The Washington Post, among others, reported an operation to rescue Somers and other hostages held in Yemen.

“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 [sic] in the Arabian Peninsula,” said a statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. “This operation was conducted in partnership with the armed forces of Yemen and involved air and ground components. Some hostages were rescued, but others — including Somers — were not present at the targeted location. Details about the mission remain classified.”

A Nov. 26 report in the New York Times said that eight hostages, including two Yemenis, had been rescued in the operation. It did not name Somers.

 

TIME Lebanon

The ISIS Leader’s Wife May Not Have Been Arrested After All

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
This file image made from video posted on a militant website Saturday, July 5, 2014, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq. AP

Some say the woman has no relation to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The identity of Saja al-Dulaimi, the purported wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is being disputed.

The woman tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago, accompanied by a 4-year-old boy. She was arrested in a coordinated operation involving agencies from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, an unidentified intelligence source told CNN.

Her detention was widely reported, but different sources now claim that the woman is actually al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife, or a powerful figure within ISIS, or even unrelated.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry says that al-Baghdadi’s wives are called Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal Al-Qaisi and that the detained woman is neither of these.

The Lebanese authorities have made no official comment, and the CIA has not responded to claims that it was involved in the capture. ISIS members on social media deny that al-Baghdadi’s wife has been arrested.

Read more at CNN

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