Last updated: 13 February, 2014

South African held by Al-Qaeda in Yemen said to be alive

A South African held by Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen is still alive five days after the expiration of a ransom ultimatum in which his captors had threatened to kill him, a pro-government militia leader told AFP.

Pierre Korkie, 56, was abducted along with his wife Yolande in Yemen’s second city Taiz in May by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but she was freed last month with the help of a mediator from a powerful tribe and returned home.

The kidnappers had initially threatened to kill Korkie, who is in poor health, if they did not receive a ransom of $3 million (2.2 million euros) by January 17, but they later extended the deadline to February 8.

“The South African kidnapped by Al-Qaeda is alive, and is being held in the region of Al-Mahfad” in Abyan, said Hussein al-Wuhayshi, a leader in the Popular Resistance Committees, militia which support the army in the southern province.

Wuhayshi insisted his information was “confirmed” and that the militants are still demanding the ransom, but declined to provide further details on his sources.

Negotiations with a South African charity working for Korkie’s release broke down last month after the kidnappers accused a member of the negotiating team of stealing ransom money, forcing him to flee the country.

The kidnappers believed that South Africa’s deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, who had travelled to Yemen to appeal for Korkie’s release, had brought the money, although this was denied by the South African government.

The couple had lived and worked in Yemen for four years.

Hundreds of people have been abducted in Yemen in the past 15 years, nearly all of them by disgruntled tribesmen who use the hostages as bargaining chips with the central government and free them unharmed after a short period.

Since January 31, three Europeans have been kidnapped, with the latest — a British teacher — captured in Sanaa late Wednesday.

But AQAP, which is regarded by Washington as the global jihadist network’s most dangerous affiliate, has brought a new, more threatening twist to the kidnappings.

The group is still holding a Saudi deputy consul kidnapped in the southern city of Aden in 2012, and tribal sources say an Iranian embassy staffer, Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht, who was abducted by suspected AQAP militants in Sanaa last July, remains in captivity.