Pierre Korkie, 56, was kidnapped in the city of Taiz in Yemen in May.

Johannesburg - The deadline set by al-Qaeda kidnappers in Yemen to execute Bloemfontein teacher Pierre Korkie passed on Saturday with still no word about his fate.

And Imtiaz Sooliman, the man who has been trying to free him, was, ironically, counting on Korkie’s ill-health to save him. Even as he also feared that the illness which has grown worse in his eight months in captivity might already have taken his life.

At midday on Saturday Sooliman, founder of the Gift of the Givers Foundation, said he was still staring at his untouched breakfast as he had been since 6am. That was the deadline the kidnappers had set to kill Korkie if they did not get a $3 million (about R33 million) ransom. Well-wishers in Bloemfontein have been able to raise little more than R1m and Sooliman said when he spoke to the kidnappers on January 14 they had rejected that.

In Bloemfontein Pierre’s wife, Yolande, and their two children and other relatives and friends were counting on prayers alone to save him on Saturday. “We are still waiting and are still putting all our faith in Him for a positive outcome,” a spokesperson for the Korkie family said on Saturday.

Yolande and Pierre were kidnapped in the Yemen city of Taiz on May 27.

Gift of the Givers negotiated Yolande’s release on January 10 for no ransom – but al-Qaeda threatened to execute Pierre if they didn’t get the $3m ransom in eight days.

Sooliman’s representative in Yemen, Anas al-Hamati, later negotiated an extension of the deadline to 6am on Saturday. But Al-Hamati had not heard from the kidnappers for nearly two weeks.

Yesterday Sooliman was trying hard to think positively as he waited for news from Yemen.

“My greatest concern is Pierre’s health,” he said, referring to his serious hernia problem. “Has he survived his condition or has he passed on because of complications? If he passed on because of medical reasons, is that one of the reasons why al-Qaeda has maintained silence for 12 days?

“If Pierre is gravely ill but still holding out it is my opinion that they will not execute him today.”

“The al-Qaeda leaders are very concerned of their public image even though it may appear that the foot soldiers don’t care. The fact that Pierre is South African is another major factor in his favour.”

Sooliman said his analysis was based on a video released by the Yemen-based al-Qaeda leader, Qassim al-Reimy.

In the video Al-Reimy had publicly apologised for the killing of innocent civilians in a hospital based in the Ministry of Defence in Yemen’s capital Sana’a on December 5 when nine al-Qaeda operatives attacked it.

“He said the fighter responsible for the killing was one of the nine who had not followed instructions,” Sooliman said.

“Pierre doesn’t fit any of his ‘targeted’ enemies so how will they explain an execution, let alone a ransom? “

Sooliman said he was trying to circulate as widely as possible in the Middle East the YouTube message Yolande had made on Thursday, appealing once more to al-Qaeda for mercy.

He said the Middle East weekend would end today and people would be back at work. “And so we may succeed in reaching some of the leaders.

“We have to reach someone who is reasonable enough to make a rational decision,” he said, adding that it would be a disaster if one of the foot soldiers decided Pierre’s fate.

Sooliman completely dismissed a news agency story from Yemen which quoted an unnamed “mediator” saying that the Al-Qaeda kidnappers had confirmed that Korkie was alive and that they would not execute him.

He said the report was wrong because there was only one mediator involved in the negotiations with Al-Qaeda and that was his representative Anas al-Hamati and that he had not said this.

Weekend Argus