Government is “deeply saddened” to learn that South African teacher Pierre Korkie was killed in a botched rescue mission in Yemen, the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) said on Sunday.
“The South African Government was deeply saddened to learn yesterday that fellow South African, Mr Pierre Korkie…was killed during an operation by American special forces aimed at freeing hostages,” Dirco said in a statement.
Korkie and American photographer Luke Somers were killed in the early hours of Saturday during a rescue operation carried out by United States Special Forces in Yemen.
“The South African Government sends deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr Korkie for their loss. Condolences are also conveyed to the family and loved ones of the deceased American hostage.”
Korkie and his wife Yolande were kidnapped in Taiz, Yemen, in May last year. Dirco said the South African government undertook “numerous initiatives” through the former deputy minister and the ambassador in Saudi Arabia to help secure Korkie’s release.
“We are therefore saddened that the kidnapping ended in the tragic death of Mr Korkie, a man innocent of any crime,” Dirco said.
“Accordingly, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane would like to express the South African government’s firm and unconditional condemnation of all forms of terrorism that invariably result in the senseless suffering and loss of innocent lives.”
Nkoana-Mashabane had a telephonic discussion with her Yemeni counterpart on Sunday about Korkie. Dirco said the Yemeni minister expressed the Yemeni government and people’s condolences to the government and the people of South Africa.
Korkie’s body is expected to arrive in the country on Monday.
More details were not immediately available. Yolande Korkie was released on January 10 and returned to South Africa on January 13. The Gift of the Givers had 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.
On Saturday, Gift of the Givers said Korkie’s family was devastated to hear he was killed.
In a text message to the organisation’s founder Imtiaz Sooliman, Yolande said: “We are devastated but I know all of you are devastated.”
She was referring to the organisation’s efforts in negotiating Korkie’s release. He was being held hostage by Al-Qaeda .
Addressing reporters in Johannesburg after the news of Korkie’s death emerged, Sooliman said he had not contacted Yolande after hearing the news. The American embassy had informed a South African negotiator that it had photographic evidence that Korkie had been killed.
Sooliman said the kidnappers had intended on releasing Korkie on Sunday, while US president Barack Obama said Somers’ life was in “imminent danger”. However, the Sunday Times quoted department of international relations spokesman Nelson Kgwete saying the claim that Korkie’s release was imminent was “just a rumour”.
Kgwete said that US forces had Korkie’s body at a secret location in Yemen and the department would make arrangements to bring the body home. SAPA