Pierre Korkie: Progress Very Difficult


It’s 29 days since we lost all communication with Al Qaeda. This has presented us with the greatest difficulty in moving forward.

In addition it’s 17 days since the second deadline to meet the ransom demand has expired. We have no concrete information on Pierre’s health, his whereabouts nor proof of life. We tried to "reach" Al Qaeda through the international media circulating an interview with Anas al-Hamati, our office manager in Yemen, who has been in negotiations with them since 6 January 2014 and through whom Yolande was released unconditionally.

Anas was forced to leave Yemen on 28 January 2014 for his own security. We then attempted to reach them through a video message recorded by Yolande Korkie as a final appeal from her to release Pierre unconditionally. This process commenced on 6 February 2014. Unfortunately, all our efforts to "reconnect" with Al Qaeda came to naught.

On 14 February 2014 we decided to approach Anas’s tribal leader on what he could advise. He recommended that the tribal sheik from Anas’s tribe should approach tribal sheik’s in areas of known Al Qaeda presence. On 15 February 2014 this was put into action. One of the tribal leaders in Abyan responded and made contact with some Al Qaeda representatives. Their response was very clear:

1. They will NOT speak to Anas’s sheik.
2. Anas must be HANDED OVER to them immediately, as according to them, he stole the ransom money which was supposedly brought by the South African government for them. So obviously all our attempts to clear Anas’s name has been totally unsuccessful.
3. However, through the Abyan sheik and according to him, Al Qaeda said Pierre is alive but in bad health.
4. They even said that Pierre is deaf and that they communicate with him by writing on paper. (This is true about communication with Pierre. Yolande has confirmed this).
5. Further, they added that Pierre was not with them but with another leader in some remote area.

No further information was provided. The Abyan sheik was requested by Anas’s sheik to try to locate the "right" leader who was holding Pierre in an attempt to restart negotiations and to attain proof of life. Ten days have passed and there has been no response on this request. This does not mean that the Abyan sheik is not making an effort. These are some of the possible reasons:

1. There is continuous fighting between Al Qaeda and Yemeni troops and constant attacks by drones which ensures that leaders are in "deep" hiding.
2. Electricity supply is only available for 3-4 hours in many areas so mobile phones are not always charged.
3. When phones are charged there’s no network coverage in many areas, and over and above that they elect not to use their phones as it’s a security risk for them. Most communication is done by handing over notes through direct physical contact driving on disused roads for several hours to effect this process.
4. The real leaders of Al Qaeda are not known by most of the foot soldiers so to trace someone who knows the leaders is a virtual impossibility. We also, were contacted by Al Qaeda, we did not find them.

We’ve reached a dead end. In a last ditch attempt to "find" someone somewhere a team from Anas’s tribe was dispatched to Abyan last night to meet tribal sheiks in an attempt to try and connect with Al Qaeda to emphasise that we are serious about communication and to clear Anas’s name. The journey to Abyan is extremely long and the team is still on the way. We await the outcome of that endeavour whilst Pierre (if he is alive) may deteriorate further.

In the meantime a Russian nurse was taken hostage this weekend. It now brings to four the total number of new hostages abducted from 31 January 2014 to date. About 12 days ago Al Qaeda operatives blew up the central prison in Sana’a and released 29 of their members. This whole issue is extremely complicated. Whilst we wait for progress Anas has to remain in hiding and all our projects in Yemen to aid the poor are on hold. God willing, we may still have a positive outcome.

Imtiaz Sooliman