‘Pray for Pierre’ as the clock ticks

2014-01-18 00:00

YOLANDÉ Korkie and her children are at peace and still believe that Pierre, their husband and father, will be coming home.

“She is back with her children in Bloemfontein being cared for by friends,” a family spokesperson said yesterday.

An Al-Qaeda group is holding Pierre in Yemen, demanding a $3 million (about R32 million) ransom and threatening to behead him.

There is no clarity over the exact deadline. One of the kidnappers earlier said it was eight days after Yolandé’s release (last Friday), which would mean 6 am today.

Meanwhile, the SA government said it would play a role in negotiating Korkie’s release, “without deviating from the policy of not paying ransom”.

Deputy International Affairs Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim leaves for Yemen today and will meet representatives of the Yemeni government tomorrow.

Last night, Gift of the Givers director Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said all the country could do was pray together for Pierre’s release.

Anas al-Hamati, Gift of the Givers Yemen office head, is negotiating.

“The last communication with the kidnappers was on Wednesday. Anas could only speak to them for three minutes,” said Sooliman.

All previous interactions lasted several hours a day, by telephone or face to face.

“On Wednesday evening we asked for a 30-day extension. Until now, we’ve heard nothing more.

“The whole of Thursday there was no communication. We phoned them on Thursday evening and made it very clear that although we had asked for an extension, under no circumstances would we be able to raise $3 million, however many months they gave us,” said Sooliman.

“We didn’t want to give them the impression that in 30 days’ time they would get $3 million. That would be wrong and then we’d be back to square one.”

When Al-Hamati broke this news, there was complete silence for the first time from the kidnappers.

The kidnappers did not answer or say anything, they just hung up the phone, Sooliman said.

Al-Hamati has since moved out of his home after receiving death threats.

“We don’t know what Pierre’s condition is, but we remain positive. We can only hope that they look in a positive light on Yolandé’s plea,” he said, referring to the media conference on Thursday in which she addressed Al-Qaeda directly.

Sooliman said his heart goes out to the family.

“Only they know what they are going through. There can surely be no greater pain than not knowing where your loved one is.”

How Gift of the Givers has negotiated for the Korkies

• Sooliman said he and Al-Hamati got involved last May, shortly after the couple were snatched on May 27.

• With his involvement in projects all over the Middle East, Al-Hamati let people know about the South African couple being held hostage.

• On January 6, he got word for the first time that the kidnappers were willing to talk to him.

• At first, only four negotiators were involved. When Al-Hamati visited them, their faces weren’t covered and he recognised them as associates of Al-Qaeda.

• Between them, Sooliman and Al-Hamati, spoke daily, by telephone or in person, with them.

• However, on Monday, after Yolandé was freed last Friday, things started going wrong. “On Monday they asked Anas: ‘Where is the money? Where is the money?’ He told them the money was too much and the time was too short.”

• More and more people got involved on the Yemen side. “At various times over 10 days, we had to speak to about 12 people, which led to great confusion.”

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