Cape Town - The Gift of the Givers Foundation’s representative in Yemen will continue to negotiate with al-Qaeda kidnappers for the release of Bloemfontein teacher Pierre Korkie – but from outside the country.
Founder of the South African charity Imtiaz Sooliman has told negotiator Anas al-Hamati to leave Yemen after the kidnappers accused him of stealing the ransom for Korkie’s release, which they believe the South African government delivered to him in Yemen last week.
Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim visited Yemen last week, meeting top government officials to discuss Korkie’s case, and issuing an appeal to the kidnappers on national television to release Korkie.
He also met al-Hamati but this meeting seems to have been misconstrued by the kidnappers. They told al-Hamati they believed Ebrahim had arrived with the $3 million (R32m) ransom they are demanding and he had stolen it.
The deputy minister emphasised while in Yemen that the government did not pay ransoms as a matter of policy. “(The captors’) perception is the problem here. They don’t believe that a government official could arrive in the country without paying over the ransom… They claim that they say they won’t negotiate with terrorists but pay under the table,” said Sooliman.
He said this weekend that as a result of the accusation against al-Hamati, he was pulling him out the country.
Last week the al-Qaeda captors sent a picture of a bomb belt as a threat to the negotiator.
But this is not the end of negotiations – the plan is for al-Hamati to continue the ransom talks over the phone.
“Yes, I’m pulling him out but he will still be talking to (them). It just means he won’t be speaking to them from Yemen,” Sooliman said.
Sooliman landed in the Middle East today and will sit down with al-Hamati to try to work out a way for them to regain the captors’ trust.
“They are still going to talk to us, because they know there is no money if there is no talk.”
The clock is ticking for Korkie. It has been almost two weeks since the deadline for his execution was extended by 21 days. The new deadline is February 8. But there is another ticking clock, and that is Korkie’s health.
His wife Yolande, who was kidnapped with him, said when she was released he was suffering from a hernia and his kidneys were damaged.
Business people in Bloemfontein are desperately trying to raise money for the ransom.
“The reality is that R32m is still too much,” said Sooliman.
Meanwhile, an Iranian diplomat who was taken hostage in Yemen has been executed by his captors. Sooliman said his head had been found in Marweh province.
“In spite of this new challenge, we still have two weeks to find alternatives,” he said.