Obama sends condolences to family of murdered Korkie

United States president Barack Obama sent his condolences to the families of South African Pierre Korkie and an American photographer who were killed in a failed rescue operation in Yemen on Saturday.

“On behalf of the American people, I offer my deepest condolences to Luke [Somers] family and to his loved ones,” the Deutsche Presse-Agentur quoted Obama as saying. 

“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.” 

Obama condemned the “barbaric” killings. Korkie and Somers were being held hostage by Al-Qaeda militants. 

The Gift of the Givers, who had been negotiating Korkie’s release, earlier confirmed to Sapa that Korkie had been killed in the rescue operation. “He was killed in an attempted hostage release in Yemen early this morning [Saturday],” founder Imtiaz Sooliman said. 

“We received with sadness the news that Pierre was killed in a [rescue] attempt by American special forces … Our heartfelt condolences to his family in this hour of difficulty.” 

But Sooliman said Korkie’s body must be seen to verify his death.

“The South African police negotiator in Yemen said they had pictures of Korkie’s body … But we want to see his body,” he told reporters at a briefing in Johannesburg.

Korkie and his wife Yolande were kidnapped by the militants in Taiz, Yemen, in May last year. Yolande was released on January 10 and returned to South Africa on January 13. 

The Gift of the Givers helped negotiate her release. 

At the time of the kidnapping, Korkie was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife did relief work in hospitals. The kidnappers demanded US3 million (about R32.5m) in exchange for Korkie’s safe return. 

The foundation had tried to make contact with Al-Qaeda through international media and circulated an interview with their office manager in Yemen, Anas al-Hamati. Al-Hamati was forced to leave Yemen at the end of January for his own safety after Al-Qaeda accused him of stealing the ransom money. 

Tribal leaders in Yemen then took over the talks with Al-Qaeda. On February 25, tribal leaders found out that Korkie was still alive but in bad health. Since then no more information was available on his condition. Korkie was, however, spotted three times. 

On Friday, Obama ordered US special operation forces to conduct a mission in Yemen to rescue Somers and Korkie, the Associated Press reported. 

Speaking in Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “There were compelling reasons to believe Somers’ life was in imminent danger.” 

“Several of the …terrorists holding the hostages captive were killed in the mission. The rescue attempt took place in central Yemen and was conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen.” 

Yemen’s national security chief, Maj-Gen Ali al-Ahmadi was quoted as saying: “Al-Qaeda promised to conduct the execution (of Somers) today so there was an attempt to save them but unfortunately they shot the hostage before or during the attack. 

He was freed but unfortunately he was dead.” 

Somers, who worked as a copy editor and a freelance photographer during the 2011 uprising in Yemen, was kidnapped in September 2013 from Sanaa. 

Yemen’s local al-Qaeda branch posted a video on Thursday showing Somers being threatened with death if the US did not meet the group’s demands, which were not specified.

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