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Release organizers unaware South Africa hostage Pierre Korkie was held with Luke Somers

December 8th, 2014
05:22 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The director of the aid group that led the effort to get South African teacher Pierre Korkie released by al Qaeda captors in Yemen told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday that his organization was unaware Korkie was being held with U.S. hostage Luke Somers.

“We also have the same problem as the Americans, we also didn’t know where Pierre was being held, we didn’t know he was with Luke Somers,” Imtiaz Sooliman, founder, director, and chairman of Gift of the Givers, told Amanpour.

Korkie and Somers, an American photojournalist, were both killed on Saturday in a failed U.S. rescue mission after the team on the ground “lost the element of surprise,” a senior State Department official told CNN.

The official also said the Obama administration was aware there were two individuals at the site but did not know one was South African or that negotiations were ongoing for his release.

On Friday, a team of tribal leaders was finalizing arrangements to release Korkie, Sooliman’s relief group said in a statement.

He told Amanpour that the fact that Korkie was constantly being moved around made it hard to determine who he was being held with.

“In May, when the fighting started between Yemeni forces and al Qaeda, Pierre was spotted in three different provinces in two weeks because he was moved to different areas. The first time he was spotted, with the Sierra Leone hostage, the one that UNICEF released recently.”

“He was then spotted with a German hostage, and then he was spotted alone. So you really, really never know, with who you are, and where you are kept with that person.”

Sooliman believes Korkie’s unfortunate fate was ultimately down to “coincidence.”

“Had we gone in a little earlier… We were dependent on the family raising the money for the tribal leaders, but because they didn’t have the money in time, it took us a few extra days, to get Pierre Korkie out because she needed time to raise that kind of money. We don’t have that kind of money in South Africa. Had we done it earlier Pierre may have been alive.”

Sooliman said the $200,000 that was agreed upon as ransom was going to be turned over “once they deliver the package to us,” which never happened.

“The Yemeni government,” Sooliman said, “is right in saying that they knew” about the effort to free Korkie.

“At all times, we consulted with the national security agency and the Interior Ministry of Yemen. And on several occasions, my representative from my office in Yemen… regularly reported to the ministry to give our progress.”

But “as far as the Americans not knowing, that’s a discussion between the Yemeni authorities and America, I cannot comment on that.”

Also on the program was Retired Navy SEAL Commander James Liddy, who planned several special operations and anti-terrorism campaigns.

“From what I understand,” Liddy said, “there was an infiltration, very close proximity to the target. [Whilst the team was] getting ready there were canine dogs that alerted the terrorists, and in a situation like this, it depends on if there is out of the ordinary… barking or not, whether it’s a trained dog or not.”

“All these types of things enter into these types of missions. From what I understood that that happened, that the element of surprise was compromised and then things started to escalate very quickly as they do.”

Neither the U.S. nor South African governments say they negotiate with or pay ransom to terrorists. Some have raised questions about this policy, both because of this weekend's failed raid and the ISIS killings of several western citizens in recent months.

Sooliman said that his organization’s “aim is to help people irrespective of the circumstances” and “irrespective of what international law says.”

Amanpour asked Liddy if he agreed with Sooliman and thinks it is time for the U.S. to revisit this idea.

“I do agree that always it’s a good thing to negotiate,” he replied, as “there’s the ability there to gather additional intelligence and as long as you’re talking, you can be gaining intelligence and then your options are greater.”

“Now I would not support paying ransom that only encourages terrorists as we’ve seen time and time again for hundreds of years.”

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • South Africa • Yemen
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