S. African hostage killed in Yemen raid just before release: charity
A South African hostage has been killed in a failed raid to free captives held by Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, with his death coming a day before he was to be released after more than a year in captivity, a charity said on Saturday.
“We received with sadness the news that Pierre (Korkie) was killed in an attempt by American Special Forces, in the early hours of this morning, to free hostages in Yemen,” said the Gift of the Givers group, which has been negotiating his release.
“The psychological and emotional devastation to (his wife) Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by Al-Qaeda tomorrow,” it said.
Korkie was seized along with his wife in May 2013 in Yemen’s second city of Taiz by members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The couple from the South African city of Bloemfontein had worked as teachers in Yemen for four years at the time of their capture.
Yolande was released in January following mediation by Gift of the Givers, which said that Pierre was just hours from being released when US special forces launched an operation to free the hostages, including American captive Luke Somers.
“A team of Abyan leaders met in Aden this morning and were preparing the final security and logistical arrangements, related to hostage release mechanisms, to bring Pierre to safety and freedom,” the charity said.
“All logistical arrangements were in place to safely fly Pierre out of Yemen under diplomatic cover, then to meet with family members in a ‘safe’ country, fly to South Africa, and directly to hospital for total medical evaluation and appropriate intervention.
“It is even more tragic that the words we used in a conversation with Yolande at 5.59 this morning was ‘the wait is almost over.’
“Three days ago we told her ‘Pierre will be home for Christmas’. We certainly did not mean it in the manner it has unfolded.”
Imtiaz Sooliman, head of the charity, claimed the US army intervened to prevent Al-Qaeda from decapitating an American hostage.
He said he spoke Friday night to the charity’s representative in Yemen about information that Al-Qaeda planned to execute a US hostage.
“I said, that is my greatest fear… and that before they do it, American troops are going to attack and Pierre is going to die in the operation,” Sooliman told a press conference in Johannesburg.
He said he had wanted to get Korkie out on Saturday and that the Americans were probably under pressure from the families of the hostages to take action.
“No one can be blamed for that, it is a hostage-taking, a crisis situation and each one works for his interests,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the hostages’ captors killed them during the raid.
Korkie’s captors had demanded a ransom of $3 million (2.2 million euros).
Korkie was suffering from a hernia and was said to have gone deaf while in captivity.