Africa

Profile: Pierre Korkie

Image caption Pierre Korkie was working as a teacher in Yemen

Pierre Korkie's family were looking forward to finally having him home for Christmas, after more than 18 months of separation.

But the day before he was apparently due to be released, Mr Korkie was killed.

The former college teacher from Bloemfontein in South Africa was being held hostage by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, after he was kidnapped last year.

US and Yemeni special forces launched an operation on 6 December to free both him and US journalist Luke Somers.

But the rescue attempt failed and both men were killed by the militants during the operation.

'Caught off guard'

Mr Korkie, who was in his 50s, was abducted in May 2013 with his wife Yolande in Yemen's second biggest city, Taiz.

The couple had lived in Yemen for four years - where Mrs Korkie did relief work in hospitals and he worked as a teacher - along with their two teenage children.

At the time, security officials said they were seized outside their hotel by gunmen loyal to a local chief, over a land dispute with the authorities.

The couple had been preparing to return to South Africa for the funeral of Mr Korkie's father who had died a week earlier, according to the charity Gift for the Givers, which had been working to free the hostage.

"It was in that period of difficulty when they were caught off guard and captured in the streets of Taiz City on their way to Sanaa and onwards to South Africa," the charity said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Former hostage Yolande Korkie had campaigned for her husband's release

The couple's two children returned to South Africa when their parents were seized, and would not hear from their father again.

Mrs Korkie was freed on 10 January without ransom, following negotiations with tribal leaders.

She returned to South Africa, and she and supporters campaigned to raise the $3m (£1.8m) ransom her husband's al-Qaeda kidnappers were demanding.

But contact was lost with Mr Korkie's kidnappers just days before the ransom deadline.

'Grave risk'

On 25 February, tribal leaders found out that Mr Korkie was still alive but in bad health.

Since then no more information was available on his condition.

"His health is a grave risk, and no new information about it has been forthcoming since [his wife] Yolande's release," his family said in a statement in March.

Mr Korkie was reportedly spotted three times.

On the anniversary of his kidnapping, Mrs Korkie broadcast a message on the OFM radio station in Bloemfontein.

"He continues to live in the most difficult circumstances," she said.

"Time in captivity does not go by in hours, it goes by minute to minute.

"The world as he knows it has stopped. Surviving becomes the only reality."

Mediators had been working on an "arrangement to take him out" on 6 December 2014, Gift of the Givers' Yemen project director Anas Hamati told the BBC's Newshour.

"His passport was ready, everything was ready," he said, explaining that Mr Korkie was still "very sick" with a hernia.

But their plans were apparently overtaken when US and Yemeni-forces launched a rescue bid.

Among those reported to have paid tribute to Mr Korkie after his death was athlete Zola Budd, who he previously coached. She was devastated by the news, her manager Ray de Vries was quoted as saying.

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