Pierre Korkie: South African hostage killed during Luke Somers rescue mission was 'due to be freed'

Pierre Korkie was killed by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen during the operation

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Saturday 06 December 2014 13:50

The South African hostage killed during the failed US special forces operation to rescue Luke Somers was due to be released tomorrow, it has been claimed.

Pierre Korkie’s family were expecting him home on Sunday after a deal was struck with al-Qaeda, according to the organisation working to save him.

He died during today's raid to rescue Mr Somers, a British-born photojournalist who their captors had threatened to kill days before.

President Barack Obama said he ordered the rescue attempt because intelligence “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 authorised a rescue attempt... I also authorised the rescue of any other hostages held in the same location as Luke,” he added, calling the hostages’ deaths “barbaric”.

Mr Korkie was kidnapped with his wife in Taiz, Yemen, in May 2013 by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The couple were preparing to return to South Africa for his father's funeral at the time.

The Gift of the Givers Foundation managed to negotiate Yolande Korkie’s release in January and hoped her husband would be home for Christmas.

After she was freed, Mrs Korkie filmed appeals in English and Arabic asking her husband's captors to spare his life and saying he was "gravely ill" and could die.

"Pierre is no harm to anybody," she said. "He is an innocent man and a respected teacher. My children and I long desperately for him, please release him."

Mr Korkie, who was working as a teacher in Yemen while his wife did relief work in hospitals, had not been allowed to speak with his family in almost a year as the kidnappers demanded $3 million (£2 million) for his safe return.

“The psychological and emotional devastation to Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by al- Qaeda tomorrow,” a spokesperson for 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.

“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.”

The spokesperson said Mr Korkie was to be flown out of Yemen on Sunday “under diplomatic cover, then to meet with family members in a 'safe' country (and) fly to South Africa for medical evacuation.”

The Pentagon has not said how the South African died or elaborated on the details of the dawn raid on Saturday.

According to a statement on the website of Yemen's defence ministry, a drone struck a suspected al-Qaeda hideout at dawn in Yemen's southern Shabwa province and a subsequent raid freed Mr Somers and killed 10 extremists.

A US defence official told the New York Times that Mr Somers was shot by his captors as the overnight raid unfolded and was badly wounded when the commandos reached him.

By the time Mr Somers was flown to a United States naval ship in the region, he had died from his injuries, the source said.

The 33-year-old, had been held hostage since being kidnapped in the capital, Sana’a, in September 2013 as he left a supermarket.

His captors had taunted his family after a previous attempt by American and Yemeni forces to free him, saying on Thursday they would execute him within three days if the US did not meet their demands.

The Pentagon admitted on Thursday that a secret raid last month had got the wrong location.

Special forces arrived at the target, in a remote al-Qaeda safe haven in the desert near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, to find Mr Somers and Mr Korkie were not there.

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