JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – The family of a South African teacher taken hostage by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen more than a year ago said it had chosen to forgive after he was killed in a failed weekend rescue bid by US forces, just a day before he was to be released from captivity.
Pierre Korkie, 57, was seized along with his wife Yolande in May 2013 in Yemen’s second city of Taiz by members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yolande was released in January following mediation by the Gift of the Givers charity, which said that it had also negotiated Pierre’s release, which was only hours away when US troops launched an operation to free a US captive held by the same militants. Both Korkie and the US hostage, photojournalist Luke Somers, were killed by the militants during the raid. Korkie’s body was due to be flown home to South Africa later on Monday.
“Today we choose to forgive. We choose to love. We choose to rejoice the memories of Pierre and keep him alive in our hearts,” Korkie’s widow Yolande said in a statement Sunday.
She said “the furnace” of her husband’s 19 months in captivity had been “relentless and red hot”. “Thus I had to really think very hard and long for an appropriate approach in the face of this pain.”
“Even though the pain is overwhelming us right now, we choose to believe that this too shall pass,” she said.
In a statement Monday, the US embassy in Pretoria sent its condolences to the Korkie family and said the two countries “shared the pain” of losing citizens to the actions of violent extremists.
“This heartbreaking incident is a reminder of the need for all governments to unite against the common threat posed to all of our citizens,” they said.
Korkie’s family said he was held for 558 days, during which they repeatedly pleaded for his release and expressed concern about his health, saying he was suffering from a hernia and had gone deaf while in captivity.
“Although we were separated in the flesh after 228 days when I was released, I remained with him in spirit until the end,” read Yolande’s statement.