U.S. Says Not Aware of South Africa Hostage Release Bid in Yemen

The U.S. said it was unaware of the possibly imminent release of a South African hostage in Yemen, who was killed during a raid to free one of his American co-captives.

The U.S. didn’t know that Gift of the Givers, a South African charity, had been working to secure the release of Pierre Korkie or that he was being imprisoned by al-Qaeda militants with U.S. photojournalist Luke Somers, Patrick Gaspard, the American ambassador to South Africa, said in an interview on Johannesburg-based 702 Talk Radio.

“We were completely unaware of the presence of Mr Korkie and of his imminent release,” Gaspard said.

Both men were killed on Dec. 6 during a raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces to free Somers. Korkie, a 54-year-old teacher who was taken hostage in May 2013, was due to be released a day after the mission following 11 months of negotiations with the hostage takers, according to Gift of the Givers.

U.S. forces conducted the operation jointly with Yemen’s armed forces in the Arabian Peninsula, according to an e-mailed statement by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The mission followed a recent attempt to free 33-year-old Somers, who had been held by al-Qaeda since September 2013, in which several hostages of other nationalities were rescued.

Imtiaz Sooliman, chairman of Gift of the Givers, said the group had kept the South African embassy in Saudi Arabia informed of their efforts. The embassy was helping to organize a passport and travel documents for Korkie, he said.

South Africa’s government has a policy of not negotiating with “terrorists,” Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said by phone. He declined to elaborate further on whether the government was aware of Korkie’s imminent release.

Korkie’s wife, Yolande, was kidnapped with her husband and released without any conditions on Jan. 10. The hostage takers had demanded $3 million for the release of Korkie, according to the South African Press Association.

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