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The possibility that Pierre Korkie’s al-Qaeda captors bought him from another group of kidnappers could be the reason behind the militant’s unflinching demand for more than R32 million.
This emerged during talks between a Gift of the Givers team sent to the heart of Abyan, Yemen, an al-Qaeda stronghold where it is suspected the South African biology teacher is being held.
The journey was a desperate move to reconnect with the militants since it has now been almost two months since negotiators last spoke to them.
Since then, Gift of the Givers – the charity which negotiated the successful release of Korkie’s wife, Yolande – have received only scraps of information through Yemeni tribal leaders.
The last they heard from al-Qaeda was that they were not willing to release Korkie unless the charity handed over its Yemeni negotiator, Anas al-Hamati.
Al-Hamati was forced to flee the country after al-Qaeda accused him of stealing the R32m ransom, which they mistakenly believed was paid over by the South African government.
“Hand him over to us as he has our ransom money. We won’t talk to him or the tribal leaders,” read the message. “Pierre is alive and in bad health. He is also completely deaf. We communicate with him by writing notes on pieces of paper.”
The charity’s founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, said Korkie was being kept “deep in the desert”, according to the group.
On Monday it emerged that a delegation of al-Hamati’s tribal leaders, an unofficial Gift of the Givers team, had sat down with al-Qaeda in Abyan after waiting there since February.
Sooliman said the meeting was tense and rushed, with little opportunity for conversation during the 15-minute sit-down.
What emerged was that al-Qaeda were not willing to make exceptions over the ransom. First, because it seems they had bought Korkie from another group of kidnappers and needed to make up the money they had lost. Second, Sooliman said if they made an exception in Korkie’s case they would have to do so for the other three hostages they were holding.
“There was no mention if the ransom was negotiable or any comment on Korkie’s health. All they said is: ‘If you give us the money you can have him now.’”