Korkie’s body sent for post-mortem

Pierre Korkie's remains touched down at the Waterkloof Air Force base earlier today.

FILE: Pierre Korkie was killed when US forces tried to storm al-Qaeda positions in central Yemen at the weekend. Picture: Gift of the Givers

JOHANNESBURG - The body of Pierre Korkie will now be sent for a post-mortem at a government mortuary in Pretoria after arriving from Yemen where he was killed during a failed rescue mission by US Armed Forces.

The US troops were attempting to free American photojournalist Luke Somers when the mission went sideways.

Korkie's body arrived at the Waterkloof Air Force Base this morning.

His family were joined by diplomatic officials from South Africa as well as the US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard.

The Bloemfontein teacher's body was handed over from US military custody to the South African government three days after he was killed.

It will be transported to Bloemfontein where his family have planned a memorial service in his honour.


At the same time, the decision by US Special Forces to also attempt Korkie's rescue from al-Qaeda militants has been brought into question.

Somers' family has criticised the mission, saying they would've preferred if negotiations were reopened while the US government says it had no idea plans were afoot to have Korkie released.

The US claims both hostages were executed by the terrorists who were alerted to the raid by a barking dog only 100m away from where they were being kept.

Retired Navy SEAL Commander James Liddy says their training includes unexpected hostages in the same positions and the US soldiers were certainly prepared.

"This is not something, in my experience, that we have ever gone in on a mission that we didn't expect to have those types of surprises. We may not have intelligence on who they are and how many, but we expect that."

But Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman says the Yemeni government were aware of the plan to free Korkie, but he does not know if the US forces were informed.

"On several occasions, my representative from my office in Yemen regularly reported to the ministry to give our progress. We stalled them at every step of the way as to what we were doing because of our own security and last week they said, 'We are with you all the way'."


On Monday, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said its officials were yet to meet with their counterparts from the US for a debriefing on exactly how Korkie was killed.

Department spokesperson Nelson Kgwete says this is yet to be confirmed.

"Minute-by-minute details of what happened during the rescue attempt will only be dealt with after we receive a detailed brief on the entire operation."

Korkie was kidnapped with his wife Yolande by al-Qaeda militants while working as a school teacher in Yemen in May last year.

In January this year, militants released his wife and demanded a R35 million ransom for his safe release.

Meanwhile, Gaspard, says those involved in the failed rescue mission in Yemen had no idea Korkie was being kept in the same place as Somers.

Gaspard says US President Barack Obama authorised the mission because there was legitimate information that Somers was to be executed within 72 hours.

It remains unknown whether the two were murdered by their captors or by accident.

Korkie was reportedly set to be released on Sunday after lengthy negotiations.

Gaspard says they did not want Somers to meet the same fate as other hostages in recent months.

"The US government was absolutely unaware of negotiations between Gift of the Givers and these brutal al-Qaeda hostage takers. We were also unaware that Pierre Korkie was being held in the same space as Luke Somers."