Al-Qaeda militants, considered by the United States to be the most dangerous jihadist network in the world, have threatened to behead a South African teacher held hostage, mistaken for an American, if a $3 million ransom is not paid. They have vowed that if the money is not forthcoming, the man’s wife can expect their hostage’s head to be delivered to her in a box.
Their initial deadline was Friday, but this was extended by three weeks at the 11th hour, with the kidnappers conceding that their hostage is a very sick man.
Al-Qaeda Militants Operating in Yemen
US security officials in Yemen are constantly on the alert for Al-Qaeda militants and frequently launch drone strikes against their supporters. On Thursday, while the hostage drama was playing out, Al-Qaeda militants launched an attack on a military station outside Radda, and attempted to storm the base. Reports said that between two and eight soldiers were killed and another 10 wounded. Helicopters and other reinforcements were sent in to relieve those at the camp. On the same day a man suspected of being a suicide bomber was shot dead outside a courthouse in Radda, and Chief of Intelligence Col. Mohamed Ali al-Qadimi was killed by Al-Qaeda militants while on his way home.
Clearly Yemen is not a safe place to be, but Pierre Korkie and his wife Yolande didn’t recognize this fact. They were taken hostage in Taiz, Yemen, on May 27 last year. Pierre is an English teacher who was working for an NGO, and they had been living in the country for four years. Yolande who was a relief worker at a hospital that catered for orphans and widows, was released last Friday following intervention by the South African Gift of the Givers Foundation. No ransom money was paid.
She has subsequently been quoted as saying that when people asked why they had gone to Yemen – “a country like that” – she always replied that it was because they wanted to teach. By teaching English, Pierre was encouraging Yemenis to “take responsibility for their own lives,” she said. She said they had both fallen in love with the people of Yemen and were happy living there.
Plea to Save Pierre Korkie’s Life
Mrs. Korkie told local media at a press conference Thursday that the Al-Qaeda militants who abducted them were convinced they were from the United States. This was because they were white skinned and not dark like many Africans. She did not refer directly to the threats made by their abductors. Reference to the fact that they had threatened to deliver her hostage husband’s head to her in a box was made by the founder of the Gift of the Givers Foundation, Imtiaz Sooliman, who was at her side throughout the conference.
The misconception that the Korkie’s are US citizens is a huge threat because the militants believe Americans have lots of money. She cannot afford the ransom and does not know anyone who can. The South African government will not contemplate any demands of this kind and they will not negotiate with terrorists. Nevertheless it was announced on Friday that the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim was to travel to Yemen to do whatever he could to help secure the release of Pierre Korkie.
Meanwhile in a video-recorded statement, Mrs. Korkie begged her former captors to show mercy and tolerance, and to please release the father of her two children. She said he was a sick man with a hernia and bulging renal system. “Why don’t you just let him go?” she pleaded. She also thanked them for her own release and for allowing her to be reunited with her children, and for treating them with “kindness and respect” while she was in captivity.
On Monday, Anas al-Hamati a representative of Gift of the Givers, had talks with the Al-Qaeda kidnappers who refused to budge on the amount of the ransom or the deadline. When he said that he was not able to pay the $3 million ransom, they threatened to abduct him as well.
It was al-Hamati who successfully negotiated Yolande Korkie’s release, but according to the Imtiaz Sooliman, the new negotiations earlier this week were dramatically different. As a result, the press conference, held at the Foundation’s Johannesburg headquarters, was in effect “an international appeal for a stay of execution,” he said. They had to do everything possible to deter the Al-Qaeda militants from beheading Pierre Korkie and fulfilling their vow to deliver the hostage’s head to his wife in a box. It worked. At the 11th hour the kidnappers granted their hostage a stay of execution for three weeks. Now the wait continues.
By Penny Swift