In a desperate attempt to draw the al-Qaeda captors of Bloemfontein teacher Pierre Korkie back to the negotiating table, Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman was able to get Korkie’s story on the second largest television network and in the pages of the largest Arabic language newspaper on Tuesday.
Time is running out for the South African being held captive by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen as Gift of the Givers negotiator, Anas al-Hamati, said on Wednesday morning that there was “no connection” with the kidnappers.
Just under three days are left until Korkie’s Saturday ransom payment deadline, but the team negotiating for his release said they were no closer to bringing him home.
Korkie and his wife Yolande were abducted by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen last year, where they were teaching.
Yolande was released last month after negotiations between Gift of the Givers and the captors.
“This is now in the hands of God,” Sooliman said this morning.
“We have been able to get Pierre’s story on Al Arabiya and also in the pages of the most widely read newspaper, the Khaleej Times, on Tuesday.
“This is our best chance, as these two media are widely viewed and read in the Middle East,” he said.
on Tuesday, Sooliman said his organisation, a relief organisation and humanitarian charity, was in a “very difficult period” over Pierre Korkie.
“The deadline is four days away; Anas al-Hamati, our negotiator, had to flee Yemen hurriedly with his family for their own security; we have no indication of Pierre’s state of health and no proof of life at this stage; and to complicate matters further we’ve lost all communication with al-Qaeda for eight days now.
“This has been the longest and most worrying period of silence in talks with them. In the first period there was a 72-hour break in communication before the deadline expired. There is no way we can initiate contact with them as they continually change sim cards.”
The family’s spokesman, Michael Venter, was unavailable to comment this morning, but Eyewitness News reported the family had resorted to prayer only, in the hope that he would be freed.
The South African government’s involvement in the case has become a bone of contention with Gift of the Givers, which believes that Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim’s visit to Yemen three weeks ago wrecked its negotiations.
The kidnappers told Hamati that they believed Ebrahim had brought the ransom, then accused Hamati of stealing it and broke off all communications.
But government officials reject the claim that Hamati told the kidnappers they would pay the ransom, which they had never intended to do.
They also insist they told Sooliman from the start that he should stay out of the negotiations if he could not produce a ransom.
The kidnappers released Korkie’s wife Yolande nearly a month ago for no ransom, but gave her eight days to pay a $3 million (about R33.6m) ransom or else they would kill Pierre.
Hamati managed to negotiate a three-week extension, which expires on Saturday.
Since then, it appears the kidnappers have halved the ransom amount, but Sooliman suggested the the difference was academic because the Bloemfontein business people trying to collect the ransom had managed to raise only between R1m and R2m.
Sooliman said he was not sure if other apparent al-Qaeda actions in Yemen were distracting the kidnappers, or if the breakdown in communication was still related to their wrong impression that the South African government had brought ransom money which Hamati had not handed over. - The Star