Yemen knew about Korkie negotiations - GotG

2014-12-08 19:04

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Johannesburg - The government in Yemen was kept informed about the efforts to negotiate the release of Pierre Korkie, who died in a US raid on al-Qaeda militants, the head of the Gift of the Givers said on Monday.

The comments by Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the aid group, came amid questions about what officials of various governments knew, if anything, about progress in efforts to release Korkie, who was said to be close to being freed even as another hostage with him, American Luke Somers, appeared to face imminent execution.

The two men were killed on Saturday during a US-led rescue attempt. The US ambassador in South Africa said the US did not know that Sooliman and his organisation believed Korkie was to be released Sunday under a deal struck with al-Qaeda.

"At all times, the Yemeni government was informed about our actions on the ground," Sooliman said in an interview with AP. "We didn't do anything in isolation from them."

Sooliman said he had considered the possibility that Yemeni authorities were talking to American allies about the case, but said he did not want to "delve" into speculation and took the Americans at their word.

"If they say they didn't know, they didn't know," he said.

Yemeni authorities knew about negotiations to secure Korkie's release and an "exchange of information" about the hostage took place two weeks ago in the presence of American officials in Sana’a, Yemen's capital, a senior Yemeni intelligence official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The Americans, however, did not "officially" ask for information about the South African hostage, the official said.

Korkie, a teacher, was abducted with his wife Yolande in the Yemeni city of Taiz in May 2013. She was released in January after negotiations by Gift of the Givers, which has an office in Yemen. The group has provided disaster relief in Somalia and other countries.

Korkie's captors lowered a ransom demand of about R34m to R8m after realising Korkie's family and friends could not raise the money, according to Sooliman.

Eventually, a deal was reached under which tribal leaders would get a about R2m "facilitation fee" in exchange for Korkie's release, he said.

US ‘unaware of negotiations’

US Ambassador Patrick Gaspard said in South Africa that American officials were "unaware of ongoing negotiations that had any resolution" between the militants and Gift of the Givers, and that it was "not altogether clear" to him that the South African government was aware of the talks.

"We were just completely unaware of those developments and had to act hastily," the ambassador said in a telephone interview with the AP. He said it appeared that the negotiations for Korkie's release were "pretty far down the track."

The US decided to carry out the raid because the militants had threatened to kill Somers, Gaspard said.

"At no time was it apparent that Pierre Korkie was being held in the same space as the American photojournalist Luke Somers," the US Embassy in Pretoria said in a statement.

Washington views al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the most dangerous branch of the terror group as it has been linked to a number of foiled or botched attacks on the US homeland.

The US has conducted drone strikes in Yemen targeting suspected militants and offers aid to the country's military. Civilian casualties in the strikes have angered many.

Some tribal figures involved in negotiations for Korkie's release were recently killed in a drone strike, Sooliman said.

This year, Gift of the Givers received reports from people claiming to have seen Korkie in different locations and with different hostages, and also alone with his captors. Sooliman said it was possible that Korkie and Somers, the American hostage, were put together by their captors "at the last minute" before the raid.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  gift of the givers  |  pierre korkie  |  imtiaz sooliman  |  yemen  |  johannesburg  |  us  |  abductions

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