US govt sends condolences to Korkie family

Korkie and US journalist Luke Somers were shot during a US special operations mission to free them.

Korkie and US journalist Luke Somers were shot during a US special operations mission to free them.

JOHANNESBURG - As questions continue to be raised following the US raid on an al-Qaeda base, which left Pierre Korkie dead, condolences have come through from the Pentagon.

According to relief group, Gift of the Givers, the 58-year-old was due to be released by al-Qaeda today.

The Bloemfontein teacher and American journalist Luke Somers were shot dead during a US special operations mission to free them in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Korkie was kidnapped with his wife, Yolande, in Yemen last year.

Yolande was released in January this year and was instructed by al-Qaeda to raise R30 million in ransom money for his release.

US vice president Joe Biden says the US is committed to finding its hostages.

"Our prayers and thoughts go to all the families involved. I do think this is evidence of America's commitment to always finding its American hostages."


It could have been something as simple as a barking dog that alerted the al-Qaeda guards as US special operations forces approached the compound just after midnight.

"There is nothing to indicate what or how these guys knew the team was about to enter the compound," said one US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and a Yemeni intelligence official said Somers, and Korkie, were shot by their captors shortly after the raid began in the arid Wadi Abadan district of Shabwa, a province in southern Yemen long seen as one of al-Qaeda's most formidable strongholds.

The operation, the second attempt to free Somers in 10 days, began with about 40 US commandos late Friday in Dafaar, a small village. No Yemenis were involved in the raid, a US defence official said.

The commandos arrived on tilt-rotor CV-22 Ospreys, which can fly like an airplane and land like a helicopter. Once on the ground, they approached the compound on foot. A barking dog may have given them away, but that remained unclear, an official said.

As they approached, they "lost the element of surprise," the official said.

A fierce gunfight erupted.

"The enemy started firing erratically and then our guys returned fire," one US official said.

The commandos were less than 100 meters from the compound at that point.

They shot and killed about 10 people, including al Qaeda guards and some civilians, said Ali al-Ahmadi, Chief of Yemen National Security Bureau. The Pentagon said it was unaware of any civilian casualties.

As they fought, an al-Qaeda guard darted inside the compound and then exited through the back. Gunfire was heard. That's when American officials believe Somers and Korkie were killed.

With al-Qaeda guards wounded or dead, US commandos moved into the compound. They found the hostages with multiple gunshot wounds and carried them to a waiting Osprey, where they were treated. One of the hostages died in the aircraft, the other died once they landed on a nearby assault ship.

The raid lasted just five to 10 minutes.

The operation was pulled together quickly.

Late on Thursday, Pentagon officials told the White House they had drafted a plan for the mission.

It was reviewed at the White House the next morning and signed off first by Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and then by President Barack Obama, who authorized the mission based on information from the military, law enforcement and the intelligence community.

"We were working against a timeline, which was al-Qaeda's public threat to execute Somers within 72 hours," one senior administration official said. "It was our assessment that that clock would run out on Saturday."

US officials said the mission had the support of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Additional reporting by Reuters.