S.African hostage Pierre Korkie, killed just day before release
Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher who was taken hostage by Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen more than a year ago, was killed Saturday in a failed rescue bid just a day before he was due to be released.
“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 charity.
The group, which had been negotiating Korkie’s release, said he was mere hours from being released when US special forces launched their operation.
“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.
Luke Somers, an American photojournalist, was also killed in Saturday’s failed raid by US forces in Yemen’s southeastern Shabwa province.
Korkie, 57, 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).
Yolande, 44, was released in January following mediation by Gift of the Givers, and was able to reunite with their two children — a boy and a girl in their teens.
The couple from the South African city of Bloemfontein had worked as teachers in Yemen for four years at the time of their capture.
Korkie’s family repeatedly pleaded for his release and expressed concern about his health, saying he was suffering from a hernia and had gone deaf while in captivity.
“A year has passed and my husband, Pierre, is still in captivity. He is gravely ill and could die from complications of his condition,” said Yolande Korkie in an emotional video plea posted on YouTube in May.
– ‘Home for Christmas’ –
After numerous false dawns, the family was looking forward to being reunited on Sunday, the Gift of the Givers said.
“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 the Americans were probably under pressure from the families of 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 both men during the raid.
The State Department said it did not know the identity of the hostage being held along with Somers.
“We assessed that there were two hostages at this location, one of whom was Luke Somers. We did not know who the second hostage was,” a senior State Department official said.
Korkie’s captors had demanded a ransom of $3 million (2.2 million euros).