Gift of the Givers man accused of 'stealing' Korkie ransom

2014-01-26 18:56
 Imtiaz Sooliman

Imtiaz Sooliman

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Johannesburg - Attempts to negotiate the freedom of SA hostage Pierre Korkie, who is being held by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, have hit a snag and talks between Gift of the Givers and the militants have virtually broken down completely.

The humanitarian organisation's Imtiaz Sooliman said on Sunday al-Qaeda had accused Anas al-Hamati, their office manager in Yemen, of “stealing” ransom money they believe was given by the government to pay for Korkie’s release. 

Sooliman said the militants had sent a picture of a bomb belt to them, emphasising that al-Hamati was now their target for "stealing" their money. Pretoria has maintained that it does not pay any ransoms.

Sooliman said the militants were convinced that South Africa would not have sent a senior government official, Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, to the region had they not decided to pay for Korkie’s release.

“We reiterated repeatedly that our government does not pay ransom. They said we were lying," said Sooliman.

“They say all governments say in the media they don't pay, but do so under the table.” 

The Yemeni president's office recommended Anas leave Sana'a to go to one of the safer provinces or leave the country for a period of time.

Arrangements are already in place to pull Anas and his family out of Yemen, Sooliman said.

“In spite of this new challenge we still have two weeks [to the al-Qaeda deadline for the ransom of about R32m to be paid] to find alternatives.”

An Iranian diplomat held as hostage was executed on Saturday.

Ebrahim two weeks ago made an emotional appeal on Yemeni television for Korkie's release.

"Pierre Korkie is gravely ill and desperately needs medical attention. His life is in danger. Islam enjoins us to show mercy and forbids us from harming the sick, even in war.

“ I beg those who are holding him to release him without delay," Ebrahim said during the broadcast.

"South Africa is a developing country and the Korkies are not a rich family. I appeal to you to co-operate with all initiatives so that Pierre Korkie can come home for the treatment he needs to save his life and be reunited with his family."

Ebrahim did not believe the kidnappers had been given the impression, from his televised plea, that the South African government would negotiate with them.

Earlier in the month, the militants threatened to execute Korkie if they were not given the ransom. After an initial silence, the kidnappers made contact, indicating that Korkie was still alive. They gave a three-week extension to raise the ransom.

The couple were kidnapped in the city of Taiz in Yemen in May.

Korkie's wife Yolande was held for seven months and after extensive negotiations she was released on 10 January without a ransom.

She returned home last week. At the time of the kidnapping, Korkie was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife did relief work in hospitals.

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