The Slatest

South African Hostage Killed in Yemen Raid Was Hours Away From Release

Yolande Korkie, a former hostage and wife of Pierre Korkie, holds a press conference in Johannesburg on Jan. 16, 2014 to appeal for the release of her husband.

Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

The South African who was killed during a raid launched by U.S. special forces in Yemen was scheduled to be released on Sunday. The South Africa–based Gift of the Givers aid group said that a deal had been reached to free Pierre Korkie, and the U.S. rescue effort “destroyed everything.” It seems that when the U.S. forces launched the raid to free American photojournalist Luke Somers in Yemen, they had no idea that Korkie was even with him, according to the BBC.

Now the killing has become a political controversy in South Africa, with the country’s biggest opposition party—the Democratic Alliance—demanding that the government hold Washington accountable for the raid, reports the Guardian. Gift of the Givers had allegedly worked on a negotiation in which mediators from a tribe in Yemen managed to convince the al-Qaida terrorists to free Korkie for a “facilitation fee” of $200,000—a far cry from the initial demand of a $3 million ransom. Korkie and his wife, Yolande, had been kidnapped 18 months ago. She was released in January.

The charity issued a statement explaining just how close it was to getting Korkie’s release:

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 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. 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.

Despite everything, the head of the charity, Imtiaz Sooliman, has refused to criticize the United States. “I can’t hold anything against them because any government would act in the interests of their own people. I’m not sure if they knew Pierre was there or not. I can’t blame anybody. This is war and it mostly doesn’t have good outcomes,” he said.