NEW DELHI: At least 13 people, including two western hostages, were killed when United States-led forces fought militants in a failed rescue mission in Yemen on Sunday. American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie were shot and killed by their captors during the raid intended to free them. A woman and a ten year old boy were also among the dead.

The fighting took place in the village of Dafaar in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold in southern Yemen, where US forces clashed with members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The failed rescue attempt has received some criticism, as Somers and Korkie were shot by militants during the raid. A charity working with Korkie -- Gift of the Givers -- said he was to be freed on Sunday, hours after the raid took place. The charity’s project director in fact said that the US rescue attempt had "destroyed everything".

The US, in turn, maintained the the raid in Yemen had been launched because there was an immediate threat to Somers life. A US official reportedly told the BBC that the US was not aware that Somers was with a second hostage.

The South African government said it was "deeply saddened" by Korkies death, however, adding that there was no time for "finger pointing.” “We are working with the government of the United States as well as the government of Yemen, to ensure that we bring finality to this tragic incident… We recognise that this was an attempt to secure the freedom of Mr Korkie and the hostages who had been kept in captivity," South African government spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said.

The White House released a statement by US President Obama, calling the death of the two hostages “barbaric.” The US maintains that they were killed by militants and not by US gunfire, because of where they were located during the raid that lasted 30 minutes.

The White House statement is reproduced below:

“The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of Luke Somers at the hands of Al-Qa'ida terrorists during a rescue operation conducted by U.S. forces in Yemen in partnership with the Yemeni government. On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke's family and to his loved ones. I also offer my thoughts and prayers to the family of a non-U.S. citizen hostage who was also murdered by these terrorists during the rescue operation. Their despair and sorrow at this time are beyond words.

It is my highest responsibility to do everything possible to protect American citizens. 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. And terrorists who seek to harm our citizens will feel the long arm of American justice.

Luke Somers was kidnapped fifteen months ago in Yemen and held hostage by Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Since his capture, the United States has been using every tool at our disposal to secure his release. Earlier this week, a video released by his terrorist captors announced that Luke would be killed within 72 hours. 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 yesterday. I also authorized the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke.

Luke was a photojournalist who sought through his images to convey the lives of Yemenis to the outside world. He came to Yemen in peace and was held against his will and threatened by a despicable terrorist organization. The callous disregard for Luke's life is more proof of the depths of AQAP's depravity, and further reason why the world must never cease in seeking to defeat their evil ideology.

As Commander-in-Chief, I am grateful to the U.S. forces who carried out this mission as well as the previous attempt to rescue Luke, and to the dedicated intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts. I also deeply appreciate the support and assistance provided by President Hadi and the Yemeni government, and reiterate our strong commitment to combating the shared threat posed by AQAP.

We remember Luke and his family, as well as the families of those Americans who are still being held captive overseas and those who have lost loved ones to the brutality of these and other terrorists. We remain determined to do our utmost to bring them home, and to hold those who have done them harm accountable.”