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Pierre Korkie, South African Hostage Killed in Failed US Rescue Mission, was 1 Day from Freedom

December 6, 2014 by Brett Wilkins in Africa, War on Terror with 0 Comments
Pierre Korkie (Family photo)

Pierre Korkie (Family photo)

A South African teacher killed along with an American photojournalist during a failed US rescue mission against al-Qaeda in Yemen was just one day away from being released.

The Associated Press reports 56-year-old Pierre Korkie, who was captured in Taiz in May 2013 and subsequently held for 18 months by his al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) captors, would have been freed on Sunday.

“A team of Abyan (Yemeni) 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,” said Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the non-governmental group Gift of the Givers. “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.'”

“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,” added Sooliman.

Yolande, Korkie’s wife, was captured along with him but released in January without ransom after successful negotiations between AQAP and Gift of the Givers.

Instead of being released, Korkie was killed by the militants during a failed US rescue attempt on Saturday. Fearing that AQAP would carry out its threat to execute 33-year-old American photojournalist Luke Somers, who was captured in September 2013, by the end of this week, President Barack Obama authorized an operation led by around three dozen members of Navy SEAL Team 6, one of the world’s most elite commando forces. It was the second failed attempt to rescue Somers in less than two weeks.

The New York Times reports the SEALs managed to infiltrate the compound where the hostages were held, getting within 100 yards (91 meters) of them under the cover of darkness before being spotted by AQAP militants. The commandos watched helplessly as one of the gunmen entered a building and shot the prisoners. By the time the troops reached the building, the militants had fled.

When the rescue force reached Korkie and Somers, it found them both mortally wounded. One of them — US officials would not say who — died on a helicopter en route to the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, located off the Yemeni coast. The other hostage died on an operating table on the ship.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that “several of the …terrorists holding the hostages captive were killed in the mission,” which he said was “conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen.”

President Barack Obama, who called the killings “barbaric,” offered his condolences to the loved ones of both slain hostages.

“On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke’s family and to his loved ones,” he said. “I also offer my thoughts and prayers to the family of a non-US citizen hostage who was also murdered by these terrorists during the rescue operation.”

Sooliman said he did not blame the United States for Korkie’s death.

“You can’t blame anybody for this. You can’t accuse or blame them (the US). It’s just unfortunate that it happened.”

A family friend remembered Korkie as a dedicated teacher.

“Teaching was his life,” said Daan Nortier, according to the AP. “His heart took him to Yemen. He loved teaching the poor.”

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